Movie Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelward’
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Jude Law, Johnny Depp
Plot: Newt Scamander travels to Paris under direction of Albus Dumbledore to prevent Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelward from rallying other wizards to his cause.
Review: When we reviewed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them our chief criticism was that it didn’t have a story, but the seeds of many stories to be spread out over another four movies. This time, however, they are free to…set up those stories a bit more, apparently. Our overall impression is a movie that exists primarily to stretch out the story to cover more films and provide more merchandising opportunities and as such as no central pillar of a developing character or clear narrative goal to hold everything up.
The story is that Newt Scamander (Redmayne) was in New York not only to work with magical creatures, but under direction of Dumbledore in some kind of covert mission to thwart Grindelward (Depp). Now that Grindelward has escaped his imprisonment by the Ministry for Magic Dumbledore (Law) recruits Scamander once more to confront him in Paris. Grindelward himself is building a base of supporters and seeking out Credence (Miller), who he believes will be able to take on Dumbledore (although I suspect he might survive).
The way that all the characters are brought together is convoluted to say the very least. Jacob and Queenie (Fogler and Sudol) turn up without warning at Newt’s apartment with an explanation involving mind control, they accidentally leave a torn up postcard to indicate that Tina (Waterston) is in Paris prompting Newt to travel in spite of his travel ban which leads to his brother Theseus (Turner) and his fiancee Leta LeStrange (Kravitz) to go after him…also Credenece is there as part of a circus for some reason…
The plot genuinely feels as though they’ve got a committee working backwards from the decided on finale of five films and are struggling to find a way to get everyone to that point. The contrivances run deeper with Newt just happening to bring a creature that happens to wander through a giant crowd to the one person and take the one item needed to advance the plot with zero guidance. The inclusion of Newt’s project of caring for animals is already beginning to feel like an anchor for the poor writers trying to crowbar it back in to the script whenever they can.
Unfortunately Newt himself feels like a side character in his own movie. Credence is trying to learn his real identity but gets very little screen time in which to do it. Grindelward is being established as the big bad guy for the series, but we don’t actually learn much about him. All we really know is that he wants to rule to world and is racist. LeStrange plays a central emotional role in the story but, like Credence, doesn’t carry enough screen time to feel like a primary character. Tina, Jacob and Queenie get even less to do, stuck hanging around in the background watching Newt watch everyone else move the plot forward.
I’ve always taken issue with the inconsistent depiction of magic in the movies. How the magic works and what restrictions they have on them changes all the time with the majority of the original films featuring any magic spell resulting in different coloured zaps of light. They might as well have been using tasers. Crimes of Grindelward have somehow failed to remain consistent within a single scene…sometimes Muggles see the magic, sometimes they just see Newt acting weird and sometimes they don’t notice anything. At times we have groups of extras all responding differently, as though there’s a selective ability to spot magic. Some spells respond differently for no given reason. If you want to know who the evil wizards are, make them apparate – if they vanish with a twist and pop they’re good, if they shoot into the sky as smoke they’re evil. They’ve also painted themselves into a corner as their only way to show ‘powerful’ magic is by doing something on a city wide scale. They introduce Dumbledore with him casually changing the weather in ALL OF LONDON.
Speaking of, better get to that elephant in the room…Jude Law is now playing a young Dumbledore. And he’s fine. He’s got enough charm and gravitas to carry the iconic role, we just don’t get to see him doing much. It’s fun seeing him teaching, but it’s weird that it’s basically a remake of Lupin’s class from the third movie. Depp was a controversial choice to play Grindelward as he’s been accused of domestic violence in addition to feeling burnt out as a performer, turning in the same ‘oddball’ performance for Tim Burton time and time again. Whilst this isn’t a reinvention for the actor he was better in the role than we expected. We even quite liked his design as a Dark Wizard after finding it silly looking when revealed in the first movie. For the most part the performances are good even though Redmayne leans too heavily into his twitchy and quirky mannerisms and he started to get irritating.
For fans of the Harry Potter universe there’s plenty to delight in here. We return to Hogwarts in some flashbacks to Newt’s school years. Seeing the Paris Ministry of Magic is fun even if we’d rather have seen Beauxbatons Academy. The creature design is wonderful, giving us original designs of a Kelpie and a Kappa. Some of the Eastern creature’s provide a new element to the menagerie and magical cats will always get me on side.
On the flip side we don’t need to force in characters just for the sake of name-checking familiar faces from the original story. At worst it demystifies a figure who’d only been discussed previously. It’s a habit of prequel films that always annoys me.
Let’s be real, Potter fans are going out to see this regardless of what we say and I hope they enjoy it. We liked some of the character beats late in the film, but there’s simply not enough development to precede it.
Perhaps a better title would be ‘Fantastic Beasts: Much Ado About Nothing’
Rating: SIX out of TEN