What should one expect from the sequel to a movie that was based on a fictional guidebook of magical creatures that itself was a spin-off/prequel to the most successful and beloved fantasy book series of all time? The writing credits on IMDB for both Fantastic Beasts movies are telling in that J.K. Rowling is listed as the sole contributor on each simply as “Writer”. Neither is based on an existing novel, and neither had an actual “screenplay” credit. By the end of “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” we begin to wonder if there was a screenplay at all.
The film picks up just under a year after the events of its precursor with our favorite characters scattered across the globe. Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is stuck in London under a restrictive travel ban. Although he’s tried appealing it multiple times, each request is denied due to his unwillingness to join the Ministry. The damaged and dangerous Creedence (Ezra Miller) has been on the run and even though everyone seems to be unable to find him, they all seem to know he is currently residing in Paris. Tina (Katherine Waterston) whom suddenly developed an attraction to the socially awkward Newt (because the plot demanded it) has started dating someone else, but this fine fellow is never once seen because she is currently tracking Creedence on what may or may not be official Maguza assignment. Her delightfully ditzy mind reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and portly muggle bakery owner Jacob (Dan Fogler) are both seemingly still in America. And the title character? After an opening jailbreak sequence that bounces rapidly between stunning and confusing, all we know is that Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has broken free and is once again trying to seduce the young Creedence for nefarious intentions.
For a movie that clock in over two hours, a lot of information is covered in the first 20 minutes. Not only are the current locations of all the major players spelled out, but we meet additional characters that were only mentioned before, including Newt’s well-respected brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), their mutual love interest, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), and a very young, quite gay, Dumbledore (Jude Law).
As luck (or contrivance) would have it, all our major characters quickly, and conveniently find themselves in Paris, so the plot can advance. The odd thing is, the MacGuffin in this story is Creedence’s lineage. The “good guys” hope they can find a close relative to give him love, so he’ll stop being bitter and killing folks, and the “bad guys” want to give him an excuse to be even MORE angry and vengeful. If all this guy needs is love, why must it be a relative? Often, if the people who are your life by choice, and not by blood, who love you the most, a sentiment that Dumbledoor mirrors early in the film. (“He was more than a brother to me”) Even if we were to take that at face value, it’s rather frustrating to see so much magical power being thwarted where a simple DNA test or Ancestory.com would have succeeded.
Structurally, the movie is a mess. Things happen (or don’t happen) without reason. Characters who appear important to the plot are suddenly missing in the second half of the movie. The “ability” of characters seems to rise and fall with the threat at hand. Other characters seem to exist outside of space and time. Is this guy dead, or passed out? How did he get out of the room without making a sound? If this guy was held at wand-point by the villains, why does he jarringly just appear in the back corner of a room later and no one noticed he was there? These aren’t transportations via wand but done so in the editing room. It appears chunks of the film have either been omitted or drastically changed in post-production.
It’s a shame that large chunks of the story don’t hold up under scrutiny because, visually, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a beautiful film. Computer generated effects still aren’t perfect but are greatly improved over FB&WTFT. The art department has spared no expense, taking the best elements from all the Wizarding World films and expanding upon them. Fanafantastical 1920’s costume design is complemented by gorgeous practical sets. If the edit was a bit more polished, or the plot a bit less silly, it would be easy to forgive and forget any shortcomings.
With the two “Fantastic Beasts”, JK Rowling may have just established herself as our generation’s George Lucas. Each is clearly gifted in creative character and world building. Each borrows heavily from existing lore to craft tales that feel fresh due to the extremely endearing characters. But each also falters when they try to bring their stories to the screen without the help of others, whether it be adapting screenwriters, talented editors, or directors that know how to handle problematic plots points.