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The Crimes of Grindelwald: not quite fantastic, but pretty close

Image taken from MovieWeb.

Image taken from MovieWeb.

Christian Dames, Editor in Chief

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The second installment to the Fantastic Beasts prequel franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, has released to divisive reviews. The film has sparked a debate between fans of the Harry Potter franchise about J.K. Rowling’s latest foray into the Wizarding World. A controversial movie since the start of production, does The Crimes of Grindelwald’s positives outweigh the negatives?

The film, a sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, takes place in the 1920s, during the reign of terror dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has cast upon the wizarding community. After Grindelwald’s escape from capture, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks the series’ protagonist, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), with hunting down the dark wizard. The film reunites Scamander with his friends Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).

The Crimes of Grindelwald, has been bogged down by controversy since the film was first announced. In light of accusations against actor Johnny Depp, many did not understand why he was still cast in the titular role of Gellert Grindelwald. While screenwriter J.K. Rowling defended his casting, the controversy would not stop. In addition, after the movie was released in theaters, the film was criticized for having a jumbled storyline, too many characters and working too hard to tie the prequel series to the Harry Potter franchise.

The main criticism of The Crimes of Grindelwald is its convoluted plot and underdeveloped main cast. Unfortunately, that is true. While The Crimes of Grindelwald does provide a lot of setup and interesting premises, yet at times it felt too much. There were three main plots going on at once and at times audiences may have found themselves overwhelmed by the amount of callbacks to Harry Potter.

 

To put it plainly, the three major plotlines were convoluted at best. Throughout the movie, all of the plot points fight for control of the movie’s story. There is quite a lot being thrown at the viewer, and the film may be hard to follow for some. In addition, there were some questionable choices and a few of plot twists that may anger long time fans of the franchise (this reviewer included among them). It was a shame, as the plot lines were well thought out, but we not fully realized because they were all included in the film.

That is not to say that the storylines Rowling introduced in this movie where bad perse. Rowling is an immensely brilliant and phenomenal writer. She has the amazing ability to create these long, interconnected tales that all come together as one. However, this type of writing, which results in lengthy book sizes, does not translate well with screenwriting (where concise storytelling is essential). If Rowling had a co-writer who was experienced in the art of scriptwriting and could help condense her broad storytelling tendencies, perhaps the film would have connected better than it did.

Which, in reality, the movie is not too far off the mark. The Crimes of Grindelwald has many things that work well for it. The bones are there and that is enough for this franchise to course correct with its remaining three films.

For example, the performances in this film were, to put it simply, fantastic. Redmayne gives a stellar performance as main character Newt Scamander. In an age where blockbusters are the norm, it is refreshing to see a protagonist that is truly an introvert and Redmayne sells it. The returning cast also gave in solid performances…however there needed to be more of them. Waterson and Sudol gave excellent performances as Tina and Queenie Goldstein respectively and Folger gave a delightful turn as fan-favorite character Jacob Kowalski.

That said, it is unfortunate that all of these characters (who are supposed to be the main characters of the franchise), where largely underdeveloped for the new characters introduced in the film. With the introduction of a multitude of new characters, the main cast from the first installment felt short changed at times. It is never a good sign when the main characters feel like  secondary characters in their own movie. There are so many characters in this movie, and all have their moments of brilliance. To compensate that, however, the core cast were not given nearly enough screen time and development.

However, despite there being so many, there were new characters that stood out and worked in the film’s favor. For instance, Law manages to capture the fire and wit of a young Dumbledore masterfully. He also successfully honors the two esteemed actors that portrayed the famous wizard before him, while still making the role very much his own. Zoë Kravitz also portrays damaged character Leta Lestrange exceptionally and, despite the controversy surrounding his casting, Johnny Depp actually stood out with a chilling performance as the silver-tongued villain, Gellert Grindelwald.

The movie’s saving grace, however, may have been its amazing visuals. While the magic used throughout was quite monotone in nature, there were magic effects that stood out in the end. For instance, Grindelwald’s magic in particular is visually striking. The two standout moments of Grindelwald’s magic was his escape from capture at the start of the movie and the final confrontation in the final act. In addition, the titular fantastic beasts were breathtaking as always. The ZouWu and Kelpy are by far the most visually stunning of all the new creatures. The beasts in these films are most definitely the series’ strongest link, so expanding on them is a smart way to develop this franchise.

That said, the fact there were such amazing visuals to pick out in the film, the rest appeared lackluster at best. However, there is a way for the Fantastic Beasts franchise to remedy this. Bringing in a new director with a fresh creative palette will go a long way to bringing creative magical effects to the series. Yates is an extremely talented director and did tremendous work on the final four Harry Potter movies. However, for the Fantastic Beasts franchise to truly feel unique and fresh, it needs to become experimental with its magic, and a new director may be the answer.

Due to the fact that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald felt overstuffed with plot points and characters, many may dismiss the movie as the downfall of a hopeful franchise. However, this film is only the second film in a five part series. There is still time to course correct and fix what is there. There are moments where the movie really shines and, for that reason, the franchise is still salvageable. Simply by honing down on the story, developing established characters and reinvigorating the young franchise with new creative sensibilities, the magic can be found once again.  

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The Crimes of Grindelwald: not quite fantastic, but pretty close