It’s fair to say that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I grew up with the books and still read them whenever I get the chance and the films were formative experiences in growing my love of film. So when it was announced that there would be a series of spin-offs/prequels to Harry Potter in the Fantastic Beasts series, I was intrigued. However, the first film, whilst having some great ideas, production design and potential, just didn’t work for me, made worse when the villain of this series, was revealed to be played by Johnny Depp, for no real reason (seriously, there was no reason why they couldn’t just keep Colin Farrell), especially with the allegations of domestic abuse and his on-set behaviour. I was a bit soured on this film, but my affection for Harry Potter still lingered so I gave this one a chance. After seeing it, I have to say that this falls into all the traps that prequels suffer from.
The film takes place a few months after the first film with Grindelwald escaping from MACUSA (now renamed the American Ministry of Magic) and travelling to Paris to find Credence, who somehow survived being destroyed in the first film. To stop Grindewald, Albus Dumbledore, who can’t go after Grindlewald due to events in their past, asks Newt Scamander to go to Paris and find Credence first. Initially Newt refuses, but after finding out that Tina Goldstein is in Paris also looking for Credence, he goes to follow her, it becoming a race to find Credence and stop him falling into Grindlewald’s lap. Now the big problem with this film is that it is so dull. At every point where there could be potential for excitement, the film gets bogged down in exposition and renders the pacing of the film dead. At no point throughout the film was I excited for anything that happened relating to the plot. There were some points where I was engaged, but those were due to my lingering nostalgia for the Harry Potter films, such as seeing Hogwarts again. The Harry Potter films could get bogged down in exposition at points, but the characters were always interesting enough to keep me engaged. Here, none of the characters make an impact. A lot of the character development we saw in the first film is erased, with Newt and Tina having to build up their relationship again after a misprint in a magazine, whilst having Jacob and Queenie return just feels forced, and the way they are presented just makes the characters confusing. No real explanation is given for what happened between films between Jacob and Queenie, and in fact Queenie’s actions to Jacob are disgusting. Everything we see of Queenie is emblematic of the film’s problems, with character growth that doesn’t make sense and the personal relationships being ignored, I don’t think Queenie and Tina are on screen together at the same time at all throughout the film, which is a real problem for the ending of the film.
There are also severe issues with the whole structure of this series. For a series called Fantastic Beasts, the beasts feel like an afterthought, almost like the film was fully written before JK Rowling realised she needed to include beasts in the film. As a result, when we see the beasts in the film, the plot and pacing stops dead to give us a scene with Newt and the beasts. The first film was able to make this work by building the plot around the beasts, but here it just feels lazy.
This issue is also seen with Grindlewald. Now, taking aside Johnny Depp’s personal life (which you should not do), his performance as Grindlewald is just dull. I get that Rowling wanted to draw parallels between Grindlewald and Hitler, but the way Grindlewald is written, especially a tone deaf scene at the end of the film, just doesn’t work. It also doesn’t help that Depp is so lifeless in the role that I couldn’t get a sense of why people followed him. For Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, there was this creepy charisma to him that let you know how he was able to convince people to follow him, but here that’s not a thing. Plus, for a film called The Crimes of Grindlewald, we never get a sense of who Grindlewald is or what his crimes are, he’s just a non-entity as a villain.
These are all part of the biggest issue of the film: the script is awful. The skills that JK Rowling has as an author are clearly with prose. The attention to detail she was able to give to the Harry Potter books, and the way she was able to set up worldbuilding and future plots was excellent in book form. However, writing scripts requires a completely different writing style, one that Rowling is not good at, even with little things like having punchlines to jokes without set-ups. There’s a scene at the end which is just filled with exposition dump after exposition dump which just feels so lazy and the reveals in this scene don’t even matter because the events in the next scene negate all the character development we got. In a book, this could work as these scenes could have been spaced out more and built in more naturally, probably earlier in the story, but they don’t work in a film. This forced nature is present throughout the film, just to make connections to the Harry Potter films. A lot of scenes are derailed to make connections to Harry Potter, even when they don’t make sense for the world building Rowling established in Harry Potter (such as Dumbledore teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts instead of Transfiguration or Professor McGonagal teaching at Hogwarts in 1927 for at least 10 years, when Rowling established and started teaching in the 1950s and was born in the 1920s). Everything in this film just falls into the prequel trap and the final scene of the film is one of the most forced and laziest scenes I’ve seen in a prequel and makes no sense for what we know about the characters in the Harry Potter series.
The acting meanwhile doesn’t help. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is fine, but the character he’s given to play isn’t interesting after the first act. He’s just the stereotypical reluctant hero and the way he acts and what we find out about him in this film makes his actions in the first film less interesting. Katherine Waterston as Tina meanwhile is fine, but after being the most interesting character in the first film, she’s just relegated to the love interest, having no real impact on the plot. The same is true for Dan Fogler, going from an interesting character in the first film to just the comic relief sidekick. Alison Sudol as Queenie is annoying whilst Ezra Miller as Credence gets a few decent scenes, but is nowhere near as compelling as he was in the first film. Claudia Kim as Nagini meanwhile has nothing to do and the whole idea of giving Nagini a backstory and making her a Korean woman, something which takes away from the connection between Voldemort and Nagini and just feels like a forced tie in to Harry Potter. Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, whilst seemingly only being included to reference Bellatix Lestrange (although the events of this film call into question whether the Lestrange family should even exist by the time of Harry Potter), is pretty good, getting the best character development in the film and giving her complexity missing in the other characters. The highlight of the film though, even though he is really underutilised, is Jude Law as Dumbledore, having the intelligence and mischief you expect from Dumbledore, along with showing the darker side to the character and I really hope that Law is given more to do in later films.
The technical side of the film is fine as well. David Yates’ direction is solid, in unmemorable compared to his previous work on Harry Potter, doing a decent job in the action scenes, even if it is too dark to see at times. The costume design and production design is solid, Newt’s house being a highlight, but the big issue is the depiction of the French wizarding culture. Whilst the first Fantastic Beasts gave a good insight into the American wizarding culture, such as the way MACUSA works and things like goblin run speakeasies and witch hunts, here, we don’t see anything about the French wizarding world that sets it apart from the British or American one, other that people speaking French. It feels like a big missed opportunity to bring in elements of French culture into the Harry Potter universe.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald is a massive disappointment. There is potential in expanding the Harry Potter universe, but the way that Rowling has done so in her script makes the world feel smaller. Everything that is wrong about prequels is seen in here and whilst there are a few bright spots, the massive issues in the film make have given me a feeling I never thought I’d have: I’m tired of Harry Potter.
My Rating: 1/5