Going into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, I had forgotten nearly everything that happened in the first film, Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them. I remember enjoying the film quite a bit, though. I liked that it was part of the wizarding world that was introduced in the Harry Potter films, but also liked that it was set in America, away from Hogwarts. It immersed us more into the world as a whole and gave room for further exploration into this world of wizardry and the creatures within it. I also really liked Collin Ferrell’s performance, though him turning into Johnny Depp at the end was an egregious choice. Though I had forgotten most everything that happened in the first film, I was excited to see how they would expand the world even further and what other adventures they would Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and the rest of the colorful characters explore next.
However, it seems as if writer JK Rowling and director David Yates were scared to explore this new world even further, as they take a u-turn back to Harry Potter land, as they bring back too many characters and references while also overstuffing the film with more new characters and absurd subplots.
There are so many things going on here that a lot of it gets lost. It’s called The Crimes of Gridelwald and Gridelwald (Johnny Depp) is just a sliver of the movie. The film kicks off with Grindelwald breaking out of prison and going on a mission to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), whom he thinks could be the key to his theory that pure blood wizards should be superior to half bloods or no bloods. But Grindelwald isn’t the only one looking for Credence, as a wizarding agent of some sort named Arnold Guzman (Cornell John) is after him because of some family issues, and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) is after Credence because of what his potential identity could mean.
Meanwhile, Newt is appealing the British Ministry of Magic to restore his right to travel after destroying half of New York City. After not taking the offer the Ministry offers, Newt is quickly approached by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) requesting he go against his travel ban and find Credence himself. Newt does so, bringing along his dimwitted human sidekick Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is trying to find his girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol) after they get into a fight. Newt and Jacob run into Tina while in Paris and they team up to search for Credence and get him before Grindelwald does.
That long-winded synopsis is only part of the film. We also get dozens of new creatures, wizardly tricks, and other side characters like Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), who for some reason is one of the most important characters in the film. We also follow Credence in his search for his mother, the relationship between Newt and Leta, the British Ministry of Magic’s search for Credence, and the love stories between Jacob and Queenie and Newt and Tina. There’s so much stuff in this movie I doubt Newt would be able to fit in all into his magical suitcase.
What’s most annoying about this film is that it steers away from Newt and his story. I’m not the biggest Eddie Redmayne fan, but I do kind of like him as Newt and I like the character. He’s a simple man who always does what is right and loves his creatures. He knows he’s a powerful wizard but just does what he has to do to get the job done. Tina, Jacob, and Queenie were also fresh, new characters with a great dynamic. And we got to explore the wizards even more, showing more tricks and powers we hadn’t seen before and see new, weird creatures. Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t add on to these characters. In fact, it makes you forget why we liked them in the first place. This movie is so concerned with bringing it all back to Harry Potter and making these films act more as hard prequels rather than universe expanders.
There are some cool set pieces and some solid performances, but Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an overstuffed mess that doesn’t move the franchise forward, but pulls it backwards, going from a universe expanding franchise to a movie so concerned with connecting to the Harry Potter franchise, it forgets why the first film was good.
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