“What is dead may never die.” No, wait, wrong fantasy series.
Still, the newest installment in JK Rowling’s magical world will make you yearn for the simple days of the Harry Potter franchise. Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is a nonsensical, only mildly entertaining film that may give even the most devoted fans fatigue.
The second film in a series of five, Crimes of Grindelwald rejoins our jittery hero, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as he is enlisted by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) into tracking down the ever-sensitive Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before the OG evil wizard, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), gets to him first.
The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was practically fluffy in its lightheartedness. It was all about building a new magical realm in 1920s New York. Newt and his American friends, Tina Goldstein, Queenie Goldstein and the non-magical Jacob Kowalski, helped rout out a spy in the Ministry, who just so happened to be Grindelwald in disguise. It was full of mishaps and magical creatures.
In this film, all that world building and character development is basically thrown out in order to make as many references and callbacks as possible to Harry Potter characters. We’re no longer in New York, but the much more familiar locations of London, Paris and Hogwarts. Tina, Queenie and Jacob make appearances, but are mostly sidelined for new characters like Nagini (a woman destined to one day to be trapped as a snake), Newt’s brother Theseus and his fiancee, Leta Lestrange.
New characters are introduced at break neck speed and without much explanation. Good luck trying to watch this if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo or universe. Screenwriter Rowling assumes you’ll know the meaning of no-maj and muggle, the significance of the last name Lestrange and the stormy past between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Even someone like me, well-versed in the Harry Potter universe, was left feeling confused about characters and timelines. You would be too if you suddenly saw a much-loved character show up as an adult in 1927 when they technically weren’t even born yet.
Preoccupied with introducing new characters and setting up the next three films, Crimes of Grindelwald is mostly a spinning-wheels mess. Depp fails to impress as the uber-evil villain, with ash white skin and hair and dead eyes that don’t convey charm or intelligence. The same cannot be said for Law, who shines as a conflicted and enigmatic Dumbledore. Our original foursome and the titular magical beasts are slotted in forcefully, away from America and unmoored in a plot that seems hellbent on covering well-tread ground.
It will never not baffle me that in a world as rich as this one, with so many stories to tell and new lands to explore, JK Rowling can’t seem to escape coming back to the same handful of characters, whether its on Broadway or on the screen. Here’s hoping she’s more successful in the next three Fantastic Beasts films. In the meantime, I’ll be here flipping through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, trying to make sense of this mess.