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‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald‎’ (review)

Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling,
Steve Kloves, Lionel Wigram

Written by J. K. Rowling
Based on Characters by J. K. Rowling
Directed by David Yates
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston,
Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz,
Callum Turner, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim,
William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie,
Jude Law, Johnny Depp

I went into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with very high hopes.

Having loved the first film of the series and an avid fan of the Wizarding World Universe, I was excited to see what J.K. Rowling had in store for Newt Scamander, Tina and Queen Goldstein, Jacob Kowalski, Credence Barebone, and, of course, Gellert Grindelwald.

When we last left our main characters at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt, with the help of Tina, Queenie, and Jacob had successfully uncovered the real identity of Mr. Graves as the fugitive and powerfully evil Grindelwald while trying to save the Oculus, Credence Barebone.

As we pick up the story about six months later. Grindelwald is imprisoned, Newt is banned from international travel, and asked by the Ministry to join them and help find the whereabouts of Credence whom is looking for his biological mother. Tina has been reinstated as an Auror and Queen and Jacob have taken a vacation to visit Newt in England.

Everything seems to be going hunky dory until all hell breaks loose in the form of Grindelwald. Tasked by a young Dumbledore, brilliantly portrayed by Jude Law, Newt must hunt down Credence, stop Grindelwald in his nefarious scheme and keep a brewing, seemingly inevitable war between the wizard world and the muggle world from starting.

And that is just the main story.

This movie, though beautiful and rich in texture, color and costumes with creatures both old and new that, like the title decrees, are fantastic, ultimately fall flat.  The jumbled mess of story that not only requires you to have seen the first film, but implores you to be steeped in the lore of the “World of Harry Potter,”  and on your knowing who all these characters are.

This is fine if you are a fan, but it is actually terrible filmmaking. By so heavily relying on your having a vast knowledge of the series, you run the risk of having nothing make sense to the casual or new viewer.

Sure, you say, “Well WHY would you see the second film in a series without seeing the first?”  A valid argument, but every film should be accessible to a viewer. By not having little if any background from the first film the filmmakers make the mistake of not including everyone in on the story.

This film, like its predecessor, was written by creator and wunderwriter, J.K. Rowling. Despite her talent as a novelist, her screenplays suffer from having, “too much in too little time”. Rowling creates these vast and complex worlds. She is insane with details and with descriptions and history for each character, setting and creature.

This is wonderful in novel format where you aren’t restricted to a two plus hour film format. I think this was proven with the final two films of the original Potter series, based on the last book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows, and even THAT was a condensed version of the book.

Here, by only writing a screenplay and having two to two and half hours to tell such a dense story the pitfall is that the film becomes choppy, sometimes unwieldy and often character development and definitely story development and flow suffer.

The first film in this series, though a little uneven, it was easy to follow. Rowling developed all the main characters well enough and the story flowed.

Here it feels like huge chunks of the story are missing, scenes don’t flow and I was left trying to figure out why certain characters made decisions that went totally against who they were in the first film and why other characters are even in the film at all.

Adding to that is the feeling that time flow is all over the place. It is day in one scene and then they cut to a totally different scene with the same characters and it is night. Characters actions and “motivations” start to feel less like natural progressions and development and more like “well we need them to do this because later it explains why they make this other decision that makes no sense.”

I’m looking at you Queenie.

The time needed to develop these characters more is sacrificed for propelling the story forward at the cost of the overall film.

What I did love about this film is Eddie Redmayne. The man is a mumbling genius whom is one of the most endearing and likable actors in Hollywood today. His portrayal of Newt is sublime and the reason I love what love about this film. The rest of the cast are wonderful as well even if they are given character choices I do not agree with and find hard to believe. They do wonderful things with what they are given and can’t be faulted for the bad writing.

Dan Folger’s Jacob Kowalski is friggin brilliant and still steals the show in most of his scenes. Jude Law, as I said before was brilliant. Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol are wonderful as Tina and Queenie and though I didn’t hate him as Grindelwald, Depp was adequate. I am just damn tired of him and he brings too much baggage to his recent work that’s less of a performance and more of a distraction.

For a film called Fantastic Beasts, the fantastic beasts kinda take a back burner in this film, which is probably why that part of the title of the film is in tiny font before the “Crimes of Grindelwald” part of the title.

Hence, though there are a few very cool and interesting creatures and monsters of all sorts, the film slowly but surely becomes “Blonde Johnny Depp and the Crimes of Overacting”. Even Newt and the main characters from the first film as well as the new characters and actors take a back seat to the “Johnny Depp Show”.  The end credits revealed that the actor required a team of 10+ people taking care of him while on set.

This film is wonderful for Potterheads and fans like me, who have been sorted into their Pottermore house, wand, patrons and even Ilvermorny House.  It is chock full of throwbacks, Easter eggs and nods to lifelong fans.

However, to the casual viewer and people who may like the films but may not have read the books or dissected each into minute crumbs this film is mediocre at best and at its worst is a beautiful, yet fantastic mess.

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