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What's the big deal?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald is a fantasy drama film released in 2018 and is the sequel to the 2016 film Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Written and co-produced by J.K. Rowling, the film sees eccentric 'magizoologist' Newt Scamander caught up in the conflict between megalomaniac wizard Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore as tensions within the wizarding community are rising. The film stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner, Zoe Kravitz, Jude Law and Johnny Depp. Directed once again by series regular David Yates, the film's casting was the source of some controversy after Depp became the subject of allegations of domestic abuse. The film was a commercial success with global takings in excess of $654 million, making it the tenth biggest film of the year but still the lowest amount taken at the time for a Wizarding World picture. Critics were divided as to the film's merits, praising the film's performances and entertainment while being less enthusiastic about the narrative. It would be followed by the third film, The Secrets Of Dumbledore, in 2022.
In 1927, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald escapes from custody during his transportation to Europe to stand trial. In London, Newt Scamander is appealing against his international travel ban after the chaos caused in New York the previous year (as seen in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them). The Ministry Of Magic agree on one condition: Newt is to locate the missing Credence Barebone who is believed to be in Paris and work alongside mercenary Gunnar Grimmson but Newt refuses and walks away, despite the pleas of his brother Theseus and his fiancée Leta Lestrange. Newt then meets his former Hogwarts mentor Albus Dumbledore who also asks Newt to find Credence.
After meeting his Muggle friend Jacob and his lover Queenie at his place in London, Newt learns that Queenie's sister Tina Goldstein is also in Paris hunting for Credence who is trying to find out who he really is. Realising Tina may be in danger, Newt finally decides to head to Paris anyway to help both Tina and Credence. Jacob accompanies him via a portkey after Queenie storms off after an argument. With everyone seemingly converging on Paris in the search for Credence, it's only a matter of time before Grindelwald shows up with his vision of conquering both the magic and Muggle world with Credence at his side.
What's to like?
Maybe I'm suffering from a Harry Potter overdose but this film is a notable step down from the previous film. But let's start with the positives, shall we? The film is, once again, an imaginative and wonderfully realised world with a more restrained use of CG on this occasion. Yes, the duelling scenes are action-packed and there are still a number of beasts running around the place but it doesn't seem to smother the film like they did before. I particularly enjoyed the Zouwu, a mythical Chinese dragon-type creature that has a personality of its own. Paris also looks amazing with magical freak shows and a very stylish French Ministry of Magic on show. This film is at its best with its production design which is clever, unique and very easy on the eye.
Of the many new additions to the cast, there are some standouts. Law is excellent as the young Dumbledore, offering plenty of cryptic clues to plot points and no doubt future films as well. I also thought Kim's depiction of Nagini, the young woman cursed to morph into a giant snake permanently, was well done too. Turner feels every bit the brother of Redmayne and Kravitz does well with the little screen time she has. Depp does OK as Grindelwald but I got the feeling that they were saving him for later films. Other than a few cold-blooded murders as he arrives in Paris, he doesn't really do much in the way of evil besides a lot of talking. He obviously has bad intentions and couldn't look more evil if he wore a sandwich-board that said "Hello, I'm a Death Eater!". But he doesn't feel as charismatic as the character should, missing that spark that brings the role to life. Maybe he had other stuff on his mind at the time...
- This film marks the first time that actors from the original Harry Potter franchise reprise their roles in the Fantastic Beasts series - Jamie Campbell Bower (young Grindelwald) and Toby Regbo (young Dumbledore) both appeared in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One.
- Despite the various locations, the film was shot almost entirely at Leavesden's Warner Studios near London which was where the previous Harry Potter movies were filmed. The only exception were the exterior scenes at Hogwarts which were filmed at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, as they were for the earlier films.
- This film marks the fifth occasion that Jude Law has played a role that was performed by another actor. He played the title character in the remake of Alfie previously played by Michael Caine, he has played Dr Watson twice (who has been portrayed by the likes of Dudley Moore, Ben Kinglsey, Robert Duvall and many more), he was one of several actors to take over Heath Ledger's role in The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus after the actor's tragic passing and Dumbledore was previously played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, despite Rowling's efforts, it would seem that not even the Wizarding World can conquer the Law of Diminishing Returns. The script is devoid of any real stakes with much of the film being exposition and little more. All this talking and plot-pointing never amounts to much and gives the impression of simply setting up future films in the series which is disappointing to say the least. Even worse, the role of Scamander (which Redmayne performs much better this time around) feels less important than those of publicity-damaged Depp and the increasingly erratic Miller. Combined with Rowling's own public image being tarnished for reasons I won't go into here, it all combines to make the film a difficult one to like. It's hard to go into a film like this and find that there are far less fantastic beasts than before and even Grindelwald's crimes aren't immediately apparent.
It still doesn't shrug off the scent of existing for the sake of cold, hard cash but The Crimes Of Grindelwald has something else unfortunate that the first Fantastic Beasts managed to avoid - a sense of desperation. Take the first sighting of Hogwarts in the film as the familiar Harry Potter theme rises up, as if to say to fans: "Look, we ARE a proper Harry Potter film - there's Hogwarts and Quidditch and everything!" It tries too hard to appeal to long-time fans and while some of them may get all fan-boy or fan-girl about the appearance of a young McGonagall teaching a class, it felt a little sad to me. Surely the Fantastic Beasts series should be inspired by the Harry Potter novels and not just constantly harking back to it? I want it to forge its own path and tell its own stories - there is enough scope to do so but this film just felt like Rowling trying to prolong things for as long as possible. It's not surprise that around the time of this film's release, it was announced that the series would go from a trilogy to a five-film series. If so, that makes The Crimes Of Grindelwald into this franchise's Attack Of The Clones - no real story but plenty of recognisable characters doing the same old thing to appease the fans.
Should I watch it?
It's a difficult film to recommend, in truth. For all the build-up and exposition, the film ultimately disappoints with too many characters, not enough narrative and little to hold your interest unless counting off the references to the original films is how you get your kicks. There are glimpses of a good film here - Law's Dumbledore, Redmayne's performance and the series' typically high standard in production values. But it needs much more than that to feel truly similar to the Harry Potter series and at the risk of sounding clichéd, this film is sorely lacking the magic we all know and love.
Great For: desperate fans of anything Harry Potter, Amber Heard's legal team, J.K. Rowling's bank account
Not So Great For: cynical viewers, toilet breaks (because no doubt, you'll miss some potential plot point), the easily bored
What else should I watch?
Things don't get much easier for this series, if the disappointing takings of The Secrets Of Dumbledore is anything to go by. Replacing Depp with the ever-reliable Mads Mikkelsen, the film is considered a mild improvement on The Crimes Of Grindelwald but it struggled to find an audience in a more hesitant post-pandemic landscape. At least the first film managed to be a hit, taking Rowling's familiar world but taking it in a different direction. It relocates to 1920's New York, introduces Redmayne's semi-autistic magizoologist and still gives long-time fans something to savour.
The problem is, the Harry Potter series wrapped things up far too neatly. Getting increasingly darker and more interesting as they went on, the first part of final book The Deathly Hallows: Part One is possibly the best of the lot. It's a properly decent action fantasy film with a story that takes the entire series in a more contemporary direction and wonderful performances from the experienced cast. But my next favourite film is actually The Prisoner Of Azkaban, the third film which sees a still-very-young Daniel Radcliffe living in fear of a shape-shifting escapee from Azkaban prison and the haunting Dementors. Of course, if you are sick of the sight of the boy wizard then The Chronicles Of Narnia films are a more family-friendly alternative while proper fantasy fans will have to rewatch their increasingly aged Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Release Date (UK)
16th November, 2018
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
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