JK Rowling is just making this nonsense up as she goes along isn’t she? If that makes me sound like I’m anti-Potter, nothing could be further from the truth. As a 90s kid I devoured Rowling’s books and I see the films as an important part of my formative years. I even really liked the first FANTASTIC BEASTS film. But for the best Potter movies were those that didn’t feel too constrained by the text and I really think we’re at the stage where Rowling as screenwriter needs a script editor to pull back on her worst excesses. THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD typifies these excesses and director David Yates has no power here.
Following the damage caused indirectly by his trip to New York, magizoologist Newt Skamander (Eddie Redmayne) is banned from traveling by the Ministry of Magic. At this most inconvenient of times, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) gives Newt a special mission in Europe, where dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is at large and expanding his power base.
I know it’s Rowling’s world and she can do whatever the hell she wants with it, but little inconsistencies niggle. While I might not care that unlike in the book magic users can apparate inside the grounds of Hogwarts (it’s a film, it moves more quickly, it’s more elegant than showing people walking for miles) I do care that they made Dumbledore professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts rather than Transfiguration only to have an excuse to do the Boggart scene again. What makes a circus so amazing to a magic-using audience who can surely perform similar feats themselves? What was the point of revealing that Nagini was once human? Does it effect her role in the HARRY POTTER series in any way (aside from making Neville a murderer)?
I know people have issues with Newt Skamander as a character, but I find his sheer oddness and discomfort around other people incredibly endearing. His scenes with Tina (Katherine Waterston) and his fumbling professions of love amounting to comparing her to a salamander are really sweet. While his beasts are even more incidental to the story this time round, I really liked that one Chinese dragon-cat one.
There are admittedly some very nice visuals. The ambitious opening scene of Grindelwald’s escape might have been more exciting had I been able to tell what was going on through the rain, brake-neck speed and rapid-fire editing. A brief return visit to Newt’s menagerie, a magical circus packing itself away in seconds and a conversation between him and Dumbledore as they apparate around a foggy London all leave an impression.
The plotting might be too busy and indistinct, but the film’s real stumble is in characterisation. What did they do with Queenie (Alison Sudol)? Why bring Newt’s much-idolised big brother Theseus (Callum Turner) into the fray if he’s not really an ally or an obstacle? The big revelation about Creedence’s (Ezra Miller) heritage is nowhere near as interesting as they think it is. The final twist, the type of thing that usually makes everything suddenly slot into place and prompt a review of the entire plot, fails utterly. You just think, huh?
I’m sure Law will be good once they give him some decent screentime. Dumbledore being a tricky bugger fond of sending young wizards on perilous quests, it’s never said outright what his endgame is. His prior romantic relationship with Grindelwald is alluded to but outright confirmation saved for a future instalment. Speaking of big bad G, Depp couldn’t be bothered inventing a new voice for Grindelwald so he just recycles his Barnabas Collins and struts around in another big coat.
I’ll say this for Rowling: she’s not holding back on the adult elements of her wizarding story. Worryingly, though, she seems to think that in order to fight fascism you need…more fascism? But it’s OK because these fascists can just magic the world better! Or maybe I’m just misreading the film’s tasteless, borderline offensive use of certain provocative imagery.
Like a lot of modern franchise films looking to the future, they answer as little as they can get away with. Seeds may well have been planted to pay off much later, but at the moment it just feels like teasing and time-wasting. We know approximately where this story is going and who makes it, but Rowling and Yates are taking us on the scenic route. A scenic route with poor visability. And a boring ever-talking co-passenger. With bad breath. SSP