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Not So Fantastic — A Review of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

There is little magic left in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Its convoluted plot, lack of character development and uninspired set pieces will leave even the most dedicated Potterheads disappointed.

Nov 25, 2018

2 out of 5 stars
Toward the halfway mark of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, we are introduced to a startlingly hunky Albus Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, welcoming Hufflepuff alum and magic zoologist Newt Scamander, portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, back to Hogwarts. This is it — a tantalizing glimpse of Hogwarts before the Harry Potter days, in the heyday of Dumbledore’s teaching stint as a young Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. The soundtrack swells to a triumphant remix of the familiar Hogwarts theme. And yet, even at this pivotal moment, I found myself unable to bite back a long yawn.
“Where is the magic?” I thought to myself.
The shot pans over the Great Lake and castle moat, but whatever joy Hogwarts might impart to the audience is dulled by the incessant blues, greys and blacks of David Yates’ Deathly Hallows-style cinematography. As a result, the CGI grounds of Hogwarts seem unbearably hollow. In the next take, Dumbledore walks over a colossal bridge to greet Newt, Hogwarts foregrounded like a fortress. The scene is more reminiscent of a king striding over in Lord of the Rings than a favorite headmaster showing an old student the beloved candlelit Great Hall or cozy Gryffindor Common Room.
While Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is never about revitalizing the childlike wonder of Hogwarts, this potentially incredible but ultimately flat scene represents all that the film is missing. From the gruesome prison break in the beginning of the film to the grim outbreak of civil wizarding war at the end, there is just no fun. Nor is there a coherent storyline that adequately emphasizes the gravitas of the situation.
The film follows Newt Scamander, Dumbledore’s protege, as he travels to Paris to find Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller, a troubled boy with extraordinary destructive powers, before Grindelwald recruits and radicalizes him. Within this main story frame, there are inextricably complicated subplots that delve into the dark past of the Lestrange family. Bellatrix Lestrange — ring a bell? As well as Nagini, Voldemort’s snake and Horcrux, and Queenie, a telepathic witch who eventually joins Grindelwald. All of it is intriguing, especially for Potterheads well versed in their trivia, but infuriatingly, needlessly complex. The film’s scramble to build up a saga of epic proportions — how else will J.K. Rowling and Yates create three more films from the simple companion book the Fantastic Beasts franchise is based on? — crumbles under the weight of layered plots and loses sight of what makes the Harry Potter so wizard.
The first Fantastic Beasts, for example, benefited from an endearing new portrait of wizarding life: a magic speakeasy in 1920’s New York City, an adorable Niffler with a penchant for gold, a suitcase that’s really a magical menagerie and a Hufflepuff hero. But this installment doesn’t have anything as fantastic.
The film could have been engrossing if it dug up one particular enigmatic character’s past, but its main character — the loveable, good-natured Newt — comes off as awkwardly inserted into the prewritten war. Besides being a favorite of Dumbledore’s, Newt has no real reason to be fighting Grindelwald, and I was conflicted about his wishy-washy character, who simply doesn’t seem that involved in the stakes. To add to this problem of character development, Grindelwald, with his chilling rally speeches, dark-robed followers and impassive avada kedava’s, appears too much like a nosed Voldemort.
Nonetheless, there are glimmers of hope. This Fantastic Beasts film has the benefit of a talented, Oscar-award-winning cast and J.K. Rowling’s script has a few flashes of brilliance, particularly in Newt’s romance with U.S. American auror Tina Goldstein as portrayed by Katherine Waterston and the flashbacks of Zoë Kravitz’s character Leta Lestrange’s troubled childhood at Hogwarts. A wonderful set piece on Leta confronting a boggart gave me the chills that this franchise could, in fact, explore some of the darker implications of the wizarding world. What exactly does it mean to come from a pureblood wizarding family? What are the politics of wizards ruling over no-maj’s or muggles? Who are the real beasts or monsters in the wizarding world? The twist ending, too, gives the next Fantastic Beasts film some phenomenal story material to work with.
But perhaps that is the real crime of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — its treatment of the Wizarding World universe as a money-making scheme. The very purpose of the film — like a floundering action hero franchise — seems to be to set up the next big summer blockbuster.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a terrible film, but it is disappointing. I am the Potterhead who dressed up as Hermione Granger for Halloween, took Sorting Hat quizzes religiously and threw Harry Potter-themed birthday parties growing up. Essentially, I am exactly the kind of fan J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Pictures were counting on to open my wallet when they embarked on the Fantastic Beasts venture back in 2013. But now even I am skeptical about whether director David Yates can — or even should — make three more Fantastic Beasts films.
As I left the cinema, I asked my friend, also a Potterhead, what she thought of the film. “It’s a popcorn movie,” she said. “Nothing special, just something to eat popcorn to.”
I miss the magic.
Jamie Uy is a columnist. Email her at
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