This is a spoiler-free review.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens in New York City in 1927, some months after the events of the first film (see our review). The titular villain, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), has escaped the authorities and headed to Paris, where he aims to drum up supporters for the next stage of his plan for a new magical world order.
He’s also there to look for Credence (Ezra Miller), who somehow managed to survive the apocalypse that the Obscurus residing within him brought down on New York at the end of the first movie.
Elsewhere, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) receives orders from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence before someone kills him. But he drags his feet until he learns that Auror and one-time love interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is there hunting down Credence as well.
The franchise has been criticised of late for keeping on Depp as Grindelwald despite allegations that he assaulted his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. But I can tell you that there are several good things about the movie.
The good: The graphics are great, and some of the action sequences are very enjoyable. The Nifflers are very cute. Eddie Redmayne and Zoe Kravitz possess very high cheekbones, as does Ezra Miller. The sight of Hogwarts still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The bad: Nearly everything else.
I don’t even know where to start. I’m writing this review the day after watching the movie, and I am finding it hard to remember anything that stood out to me. The movie felt like it went on for far too long, but not much really happened. Given its title, Fantastic Beasts 2 is very light on beasts. But when they do appear, they are truly fantastic. There were several points where I was actually thankful that the Nifflers could still be counted on for some comic relief in this unnecessarily grimdark movie.
I still don’t understand why the franchise insists on making Newt the protagonist of the series when the character doesn’t actually get much screen time at all, especially when Newt is so poorly sketched out. We only ever get told by several other characters that Newt doesn’t seek or want any sort of power, but that is as far as characterisation goes in this movie.
JK Rowling throws a whole bunch of new characters at us, including Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), but there was no depth or complexity of character at all. Considering the fact that the original Harry Potter series was lauded in part for its intricate world building and characterisation, I can barely believe that Fantastic Beasts 2 was even written by the same person.
However, the bigger problem here was that almost all the acting performances are incredibly mediocre. Depp does what he was hired to do, in that he plays a villain that you don’t want to root for, but it just seems like he’s dialling it in. We keep being told by various characters how charming Grindelwald is, but I saw none of this in Depp’s performance.
Even the usually charismatic Jude Law, here playing a younger Albus Dumbledore, seemed strangely toned down. I wish I could say something about Redmayne’s performance, but I can’t seem to remember anything about it either, which is a pity because he clearly is capable of so much more.
In fact, nothing in this movie makes sense. Longtime fans who spot every Easter egg and reference will also be confused by the actions of several beloved characters, and in the third act, the big reveal comes suddenly and without any build up or foreshadowing at all.
I’ve commented on the general problem with Rowling’s plots post-Deathly Hallows before, but in this movie it just seems like she’s thrown caution to the wind. The retcons are both confusing and plentiful, with plot developments thrown in willy nilly. (I’m surprised a kitchen sink didn’t make an appearance.)
Even the obvious comparison of Grindelwald’s followers to Nazi Germany and the more right-wing portions of global politics is ham-fisted and clumsy. We aren’t ever told why people find Grindelwald’s message so convincing, nor why they would even join him in the first place. There simply isn’t any commentary of substance here.
I came out of it feeling angry at the direction that Rowling had chosen to take the series. Literally everything I loved about the original book and movies — the whimsicality, the humour, the complex characters and plot, the sheer wonder of it all — were missing in this latest installment, and at this point somebody needs to tell her that enough is enough. Potter fans deserve better than this.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens in Singapore. Leave a comment below and tell us what you think of the movie!