I am not the most hardcore fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books or the movies. I still find them incredibly entertaining and imaginative. And perhaps it’s my age where I’ve seen fandom devolve from healthy debates to full on battles within fandom that keeps me from going overboard with my fandom. I’ve been through it with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. But I’m at an age where as much as I love these properties and their world I don’t want to center my life around it. They are fun and can be enjoyed for what they are or even dived more deeply for some sort of hidden meaning that is or is not apparent.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is going to piss some people off. Some of it will just be fans who just want to recycle the experience and whimsy of the Potter Books or marvel at the fantastic beasts from the previous film. I didn’t want any of that. Your mileage may vary. This is definitely a dark film which means it’s right in my wheelhouse.
The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, saw a new protagonist in Rowling’s world come to the screen. Newt Scamander, played haltingly by Eddie Redmayne, comes to 1927 New York with his magic suitcase full of magical creatures (It’s bigger on the inside). Soon enough magical shenanigans and property destruction ensues. Beneath that though is fact that Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard who believes wizards are meant to rule over humans. He is caught in the end.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up a few months after his arrest and the film opens with an elaborate escape as Grindelwald is being transferred by Thestral carriage to the wizarding prison of Nurmengard.
Meanwhile, back in London, Newt Scamander has his travelling privileges revoked because he basically broke New York but also because he refuses to become an Auror like his brother Theseus. The Ministry believes that not only is Credence, the young Obscurial from the previous chapter is alive but is in Paris and wherever he is so will Grindelwald be, because — plot.
After Newt refuses the Ministry’s offer to become a dark wizard hunter, along comes Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) who also tries to convince Newt to go to Paris because Credence is in search of his real family and he may be related to someone they both know. It is also revealed that Dumbledore was behind the machinations of Newt ending up in New York in the first place. Newt again refuses.
Newt does go to Paris, though. He brings along Jacob Kowalski who had obviously recovered his memory from the obliviating rain from the previous film. Jacob and Newt are looking for Queenie who left in a huff because Jacob thinks even though England has no wizarding anti-miscegenation laws, their marriage would be harmful for her. So Queenie leaves to join her sister, who not only is an Auror but is also looking for Credence. So plot devices compel Newt forward and to once again become reluctantly involved in the worldly problems of wizards.
What will follow is basically a laying down of the foundations for the next three films since it is projected to be a 5 film series. Now there is plenty of hijinks involving following Credence around as he follows clue to his real life before being adopted in America. Along the way, someone is also hunting him. The dude is the living McGuffin of this movie.
We are also introduced to a very human Nagini, who is described as a Maledictus. A witch with a blood curse that not only turns them into a beast but will eventually permanently make them so. Somewhere along the way, Grindelwald acquires a handful of disposable and frankly unremarkable minions. Honestly, I think they are there just for Johnny Depp to have someone to talk to.
For a five movie series, there is a lot of information and plot details that are revealed especially in the third act where there is a long scene where hidden histories of some of the characters are revealed eventually revealing who Credence is (is allegedly is). A lot of it does no add up though because of established lore, so there is going to a lot o debate online about that.
I am not going to spoil that for this review but I may get into it in a deep dive in a later post. But the motivations of Grindelwald becomes more clear and we get more background on why Dumbledore can not go against Grindelwald directly.
Crimes of Grindelwald is far from being a perfect film but it is not a bad film. I truly enjoyed it but there are lots of questions I have as far as established history is concerned. Either Rowling made a mistake in the writing and her timeline or she is retconning he lore. And she has been known to retcon before. Nevertheless it is her world and we are along for the ride.
The movie really could have been three hours long mainly because the last act seemed to throw so much information at the end. The final act is solid once you get past the first act of establishment and meandering plot-points.
The visual effects are as can be expected from the series, well done with some nice scenes of the wizarding world. Now concerning the world, the various Ministries of France, England and the United States do not look like the Dickensian world that we have seen in the Harry Potter.Ministers and Aurors wear modern (1927 modern) suits and not robes. The Parisian alternate world, instead of looking like London’s Diagon Alley, it looks like 1927 Paris.
The cast does well with the material they are given. Frankly the love triangle (quadrangle?) does not really work and it seems to show in their performance. Dan Fogler as Jacob and Allison Sudol as Queenie are an incredibly charming couple and the one we instinctively root for. I hope it works out though as there is some Empire Strikes Back level of stuff that goes on by the end of the film.
I’ve heard the Harry Potter franchise described as this generation’s Star Wars. On that note, I’ve seen all the Wizarding World movies and have enjoyed them all, some more than others. Some Star Wars films I outright hated. And with Crimes of Grindelwald we get an appealing movie that moves the narrative forward rather clumsily at some points. It still remains fun and entertaining. But be aware that it is dark.
Recommended with the caveat that if you are just a casual fan, you may have to catch up and if you are a rabid fan, you may be nitpicking this for days.