Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald takes us back to Hogwarts. It’s a brief stop in fairness, in the sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, but it is the highlight. Dumbledore and McGonagall teach in the Wizards school and those iconic tall towers and unique uniforms are a welcome moment of respite from the chaotic world of Paris. The connection was inevitably going to be made and bringing Dumbledore back into the mix would always entertain audiences. But, while Dumbledore and Grindelwald are clearly against each other, they cannot fight – and Newt and his crew are expected to stop him.
We return to the 1920’s, as Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) breaks free from prison and emerges in Paris. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is the last of his kind and Grindelwald needs this boy before embarking on a dastardly plan for the future. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has his own worries, as he can’t travel abroad and he pines after Tina (Katherine Waterston). But everything changes after meeting Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) – a man who, even in these younger years, is among the few wizards feared by the enemy and championed by his allies. Dumbledore tasks Newt to find Credence and save him from the clutches of Grindelwald and his army. Together with muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler), and a suitcase of creatures and gadgets, they illegally travel to Paris to follow Jacob’s love, Queenie (Alison Sudol), to save Credence and confront Grindelwald.
J. K. Rowling remains the most important key to the Wizarding World puzzle. Without her script and story, the Fantastic Beasts series would be a disposable extension of the Potter series. But Rowling is a mark of quality and a seal of approval. If anyone retcons the events of the Wizarding World, Rowling is the only person to play with the history. Indeed, The Crimes of Grindelwald toys with our knowledge and you’re left to wonder whether it’ll all fit together.Michael Leader, on Little White Lies ‘Truth and Movies’ podcast, spied a connection to X-Men. Grindelwald becomes Magneto in his humans-are-the-enemy position, while Dumbledore is Professor X, fighting the good fight in the hope that wizards/mutants can live in harmony with mankind. This revealing insight does make sense and, in that respect, Newt might be the Wolverine of this comparison. We can all agree that a clumsy Redmayne is no Hugh Jackman. Indeed, using World War II references and merging it with modern fantasy was a bold movie for X-Men in 1999, almost 20 years ago, so it is less fresh when we see it in Crimes of Grindelwald.
The selling point of Fantastic Beasts, and it is as fun as it always has been, is the world we are invited into. There’s no universe like it and audiences will lap up the enormous monsters, spinning shelves and hovering chairs that litter the world. But the brutal truth has to be that Fantastic Beasts struggles to capture even a smidgen of the magic of Harry Potter. The goofy tone and energetic pace is simply not enough to bring to life these dull and disinterested characters. The misadventures of Newt, shambling between scenes and lodging himself into situations, relies on luck to pull him through. Ezra Miller, a snarky chatterbox in Justice League, is almost mute as Credence and, despite his importance to the story, is completely devoid of energy and often appears lost amidst the more dominant characters that surround him. Then there’s Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), and sister-in-law Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), and the over-advertised and minor role of Voldemort’s snake, Nagini (Claudia Kim), in human form. So many busy plots take us away from a smooth, clear direction and it makes the whole experience cumbersome and heavy.
In that respect, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a forgettable entry in a staggeringly ambitious franchise. There’s scope for excitement and depth, but this is not the one. Unwieldy, tiring and relying solely on Jude Law’s charm and the recycling of locations we know too fondly, The Crimes of Grindelwald drops the Quidditch ball on Newt’s second adventure. But the world is fun enough that we’ll return and re-watch this in preparation for the next film – but it needs to introduce something, or someone, worth watching for.