Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a prequel to the famous Harry Potter series. This costly, holiday blockbuster is about… racism, which may not be what families expect to see for this time of year.
J.K. Rowling’s literary and cinematic world is certainly built on the basis of serious, moralistic subjects, which are examined through a legendary, classic war between the good and evil to get it through to all ages. Members of Hogwarts’ Slytherin house are certainly bitter, elitist bigots who think they are superior just because they are pureblood wizards and witches. However, if the Harry Potter series was significantly well-balanced between the thrilling and the profound, it seems that the Fantastic Beasts spin-off hasn’t been able to achieve such firm footing.
How confusing it is, because it is Rowling herself who penned both the screenplays of the 2016 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. David Yates, the director behind four movies of the Harry Potter series, also directs these spin-offs. It seems that Rowling wants to stuff too much into the movies and no one even tries to hold her back. Yes, there is magic and visual fascination, however, the amount of character and plot exploited is cumbersome. The Crimes of Grindelwald explores much more than its prequel, which was tied with the basic narrative needs of world building and maybe too dependent on its bizarre and fantastic creatures to give audiences a sense of emotion, but it doesn’t work very well.
This movie, if compared, follows too many things, thus making its storyline more of a toil than a thrill. The mention of names like Lestrange or a swift visit to Hogwarts and seeing a young, eager Albus Dumbledore is no more than a sparkle of the original magic. And Eddie Redmayne, the constantly anxious, mannered main character of these movies, does not give a very firm, strong ground. Playing Newt Scamander, a magizoologist and author of the fictional “Fantastic Beasts” book featured in the movies’ titles, he is unstable and mumbly, which is not captivating but distracting instead. Redmayne has magic, he is supposed to be the channel that leads audiences into this complex world. This time, the work is cut out for him more than ever.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald starts with the scary dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp, the hostile return from the prequel) making a bold prison escape as he is transferred from the US to England on a stormy night. (This opening sequence is one of the movie’s highlights, and it has the urgency that the rest of the movie barely has.) He intends to gather pureblooded wizards from all over the world to stand up, take over and rule the non-magical – No-Majs in the United States or Muggles in the UK. The chilling nature of his ambitions (as well as their significance in both history and the present) is further illustrated by sights of trains, tremendous blazes and piles of ashes, which denotes that something terrifying is about to happen. It is harsh. However, Depp manages to alleviate the peculiar weirdness that is usually seen in his work, especially with Tim Burton. Instead, this time he pursues the image of a calm and deep villain.
Completing the request of Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Jude Law), Newt has to leave his cuddlesome and crawly creatures to track down Grindelwald. The headmaster cannot complete this task as in his youth he used to have a too intimate relationship with this now-evil wizard. It has been indicated by J.K. Rowling that Dumbledore is homosexual, and his link with Grindelwald develops on that fascinating idea, however, the script frustratingly avoids digging further into their possible romantic relationship.
Newt also has a potential romance going on with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson, returning to her mousy role), a sweet but nervous auror. However, Tina is anxious to get further with Newt, thinking he still has feelings for his childhood classmate Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). Lestrange is engaged to marry Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), a Ministry of Magic’s official.
Hang on, that’s not all. Fantastic Beasts 2 also features the return of Tina’s pleasingly giddy sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), a mind-reader, who is in a relationship with her lovable Muggle boyfriend, Jacob (Dan Fogler). Queenie seemingly wants to help but also gives some necessary levity. The movie goes back and forth between these several plots as well as between 1920s’ London and Paris, which share such similarity in their cosmopolitan gloominess that they can be interchangeable (and even bewildering at times.)
And the final but just as crucial factor of the movie is the storyline involving the powerful and afflicted Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who is on his way to find his identity while Grindelwald is trying to find him to turn him into a weapon. Credence only has a true friend and protector that is Nagini (Claudia Kim), a shapeshifter who can turn into a giant serpent. But they also get lost among the chaos of the movie.
There are indeed outstanding moments and images, for example, a crowder circus tent that can be packed neatly into a cart simply by flicking a wand, or a gold, glimmering mist that, if sprinkled in a place, can reveal the conversations and actions that happened there, even the footprints. And the fantastic beasts are fantastic, of course, especially the magnificent seahorse made out of kelp that can be used to ride underwater. They’re just not very easy to find in this installment.