It was about 90 minutes into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when I found myself thinking, “I have no idea what’s going on.” And, even worse, I found myself not caring. Now, please take into consideration that I’ve seen all eight Harry Potter movies and I even liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Look, Fantastic Beasts isn’t a movie I’m going to schedule some sort of yearly viewing (or even watch again on cable), but I thought it did a pretty good job of setting up this kind of kooky world. It was pleasant enough. Then along comes The Crimes of Grindelwald, which spends a good portion of its time wiping away what we learned in the first movie. Seriously, someone who is now ten movies into this series probably shouldn’t have been as confused as I was.
Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is back, but this time he even seems lost – almost like he, too, doesn’t quite recognize this movie he’s in compared to the first. Newt is now back in London after his adventures in New York and characters from the first movie just start showing up at his apartment, including Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who we last saw having his mind erased at the end of the first movie. When Newt asks him how he has his memories, Jacob basically says. “It didn’t take.” Anyway, that’s the kind of movie we are dealing with here. There are a lot of moments like this in The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Honestly, there are so many characters in this movie I don’t even want to get into the rest of them. After I saw it a die-hard Harry Potter fan told me, “Don’t tell me anything, I don’t want to know yet.” To which I responded, “Honestly, I don’t think I could if I tried.” Most of the film involves meeting yet another new character, then being told yet another long story about his or her mysterious past. At times, The Crimes of Grindelwald feels more like some sort of Harry Potter encyclopedia or appendices than it does an actual movie.
The “too long, didn’t read” version of the plot is: everyone (Newt, Jacob, Katherine Waterston’s Tina, Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald among them) are looking for Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). You see, Credence has a secret about his past (which does not make him unique in this movie) and he doesn’t know who he actually is, or what his role in any of this world is supposed to be. In other words, the whole movie we are told that Credence is secretly someone important in Harry Potter lore, he and the rest of us just don’t know who – and this is why the evil Grindelwald wants him so bad. This results in many, many scenes of Credence asking people, “Do you know who I really am?” (At the end we do find out, and it’s a bit of a head scratcher.)
The Crimes of Grindelwald is legitimately the first movie of the now ten set in this world that I didn’t enjoy. What it honestly feels like is going on is there’s just not enough story here for five (five!) Fantastic Beasts movies. I can’t believe there are going to be three more. This entire movie feels like filler. And, yes, while watching, it brought back memories of The Hobbit movies, only somehow less eventful. It’s like one big tease for a battle between Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald that won’t happen for three more movies.
And then there’s the controversial decision to cast Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Sigh. I’ll never forget the moment during the early press screening for the first Fantastic Beasts when Colin Farrell transforms into Johnny Depp. I mean, what a downgrade. And the movie actually thinks this is exciting, taking one of the best actors working today (Farrell, to be clear) and transforming him into Depp. And, yes, in this sequel, Depp plays Grindelwald pretty much exactly how you think he will, in that very Johnny Depp “Oh, look at me, I’m eccentric” way. (Holy crap this movie could have used some Colin Farrell.) And the whole thing culminates in … a speech. No, not some grand battle or emotional confrontation, but instead we watch Johnny Depp give a speech about how non-magic users can’t be trusted.
For the life of me I don’t understand this movie. The first one actually did do a good job of setting up this word, but The Crimes of Grindewald feels like a strange course correction for the worst – and somehow feels like even more of a setup than the first film, with endless explanations of all these characters. I actually feel sorry for all of the now adult Harry Potter fans, who now have kids of their own, who will have to try and explain this movie. I suspect there will be a lot of parents saying things like, “Um, I’m not sure who that is either,” or, “No, I’m not sure what happened to that character, I’m sure she’s fine” and then finally, “Say, how about we just watch Prisoner of Azkaban again?”
As it turns out, Grindelwald’s biggest crime was excessive exposition.
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