The Crimes of Grindelwald
It seems hard to believe, but J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World now spans two decades. The first Harry Potter novel was published in 1998, with the film adaptation premiering three years later. The last Potter film was released in 2011, ending our big screen journeys into that universe until the 2016 premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which launched the first of five—yes, five—planned spin-off films destined to push the Wizarding World well into its third decade.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up a year or so after the 2016 film. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who’s been banned from traveling because of his actions in the prior film, is propositioned by the Ministry of Magic to hunt down Gellert Grindelwald (the dark wizard played by Johnny Depp whose plot to rule over the Muggle world led to his capture in the first film but who has since escaped) and Credence Barebone, the young, abused and powerful Obscurial wizard played by Ezra Miller from the prior film, who also may be the last in the line of purebred wizards, subject of a prophecy and even a long-lost brother of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), the former love of Newt’s life who is now engaged to his brother. Grindelwald is also searching for Credence because he believes the boy is key to helping him carry out his nefarious plan to subjugate the Muggle world to wizard rule.
Got all that? All of this, by the way, only gets us about 20 minutes into the 134 minute film and covers only a portion of the multiple plot lines.
Media Matters regular reviewer Vic Thiessen observed in his review of the first Fantastic Beasts that there was a lot going in it—and the sequel definitely keeps the trend going. Perhaps a little too much. If you haven’t seen the first Fantastic Beasts, you may find yourself a bit lost in this one. Even if you have, keeping track of all the relationships, characters, plot lines and themes feels a little overwhelming and taxing at times. And the film doesn’t give us as much time as it should to mull over or relish the Easter eggs and scenes that give us insights into the Wizarding World.
Plus, if you’re missing a solid background in the Wizard World canon, you’ll miss out on some things. For example, knowing the story behind the death of Dumbledore’s sister adds complexity and poignancy to his conversation with Leta about the regret they feel regarding their siblings. You may also miss the significance of Nagini or find the revelation at the end of the film confusing rather than shocking.
In addition, the film has that “in-between” feel, like it’s a continuation of the first Fantastic Beasts and a set up for the next one. Unlike most of the Potter films, this one probably won’t stand well on its own.
The film does have some strengths—the primary being Newt Scamander. Redmayne brings depth and believability to the eccentric, compassionate and principled magizoologist. We believe Newt is the kind of man who, as Dumbledore admires at one point, doesn’t seek power or popularity but simply asks, “Is a thing right?”—and then does it, no matter the cost to himself. As Thiessen says in his earlier review, Newt feels like the kind of leader this world truly needs.
In contrast is Depp’s Grindelwald, a man who craves power and popularity, manipulating those around him by appealing to their fears, desires and weariness of Muggle wars and the Ministry of Magic’s policies of suppression and violence (a theme that hits pretty close to home these days). Grindelwald is all about power, no matter the cost to others. I still feel chilled by an off-camera scene involving a small child just after he “acquires” a house in Paris.
As many critics have noted, the Fantastic Beasts films are darker and less suitable for children than the Potter stories. This one in particular also feels saturated by loss, regret and the weight of choices we make, be they intentional or not.
The Crimes of Grindelwald has a lot of good stuff in it, but we don’t have enough time to digest it all. It’s not a bad film, but it isn’t as good as it could have been. If you are a fan of the Wizarding World, you’ll probably enjoy it, even with its shortcomings. If you’re new to the franchise, maybe you should start with the Potter films and work your way over to these. Or at least read a wiki or two before you go.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.