What exactly were the crimes of Grindelwald? He doesn’t really do anything in this movie? Maybe vaping in a graveyard is illegal in France. It doesn’t really matter, because it couldn’t make up for this film’s biggest crime of being absolutely terrible.
Oh boy are we in the thick of it now folks. Fantastic Beasts 2, the second of five threatened films from Warner Brothers and the now much-maligned screenwriter J.K. Rowling. It’s no small secret that I am not a fan of the first film in the franchise, but it deserves a Palme d’Or compared to this car fire. You see where the first film was a largely uninteresting bore of a movie, it was at least tolerable, whereas watching The Crimes of Grindelwald is about as maddening as a circus in which the clowns are legally allowed to attack you. I’m going to talk fast and loose here so if for some remarkable reason you care about this film being ruined for you, don’t read this. But also, I would implore you not to go see the film, because if no one else buys tickets then maybe they won’t get to make three more. As for those of you who have seen it, I’m sorry. But hey, at least you’re not alone. Now you know for sure that this wasn’t just some bizzare nightmare you had but instead a real thing that people worldwide paid to see.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is about…something. I really couldn’t tell you quite what this film is about, because it’s biggest issue is the fact that it is absolutely incoherent. Really, allowing Jo Rowling to write this screenplay without any help as she has absolutely no idea what she’s doing is a decision I can’t understand. This film breaks so many rules of cinematic storytelling you would think it was written by someone who had never seen a film, had built a Harry Potter LEGO set one time and decided to write a movie in that world and hope for the best. She seemed much more concerned with shoving in copious amounts of world-building ephemera and retconning the dense canon that she herself penned rather than taking the time to execute a well-paced fantasy adventure that is either intelligible or remotely entertaining. Truly someone should tell her that it is more important to know what a character’s motivations are within a scene rather than knowing how Dumbledore got his phoenix. Something that was Rowling’s strongsuit in narrative novel writing was her ability to withhold key information until the conclusion of a story, keeping you intrigued and surprised the whole way through. This works against her in The Crimes of Grindelwald, as the plot is seemingly centered around every wizard on earth wanting to meet Creedence, Ezra Miller’s inexplicably boring character who exploded at the end of the first film. The only problem is, we don’t know why anyone is interested in this emotionless sack of charcoal until the very end of the film and the reasons that each character has are so ridiculous anyway that we the audience realize we never cared that much in the first place.
Let’s talk about the performances in this movie. It seems as though nobody onset is even awake. They are all so dull, so one-note, so unengaging that watching this nearly two and a half hour film can be compared to listening to an audiobook of an instruction manual for a Boeing 747. Both are incredibly boring and confusingly alienating. The only exception I might find would be Dan Fogler as our muggle friend from the first film, except his story arc is so horrendous even he loses some points from me. Jude Law is in this film as someone pretending to be Albus Dumbledore. He does an alright job, I guess, but his portrayal is nowhere near that of Richard Harris or Michael Gambon, both in characterization and in quality. I understand what Eddie Redmayne is trying to do as Newt Scamander, but his portrayal of someone so crippled by his inability to relate to other human beings is tiresome and not nearly engaging enough to carry us through a five-part series as our lead character. Granted, it remains entertaining to watch Jo Rowling jump through hoops to find ways for this socially-anxious Londoner and his bag of magical twigs and platypi to somehow be effective in the ongoing struggle against Wizard Hitler. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the fantastic beast in the room, Mr. Johnny Depp himself. If you remember from the first movie, the movie ends with the main villain, played by Collin Farrel, as the evil dark wizard and Voldemort 1.0, Gellert Grindelwald. But then, in a shocking double twist, he takes his mask off to reveal it was Johnny Depp the whole time, a downgrade so egregious and frustrating it could only be bested if Paddington took off his face to reveal Louis C.K. As for his work in this movie, Depp does…nothing. He doesn’t make a single choice in the whole film. It’s almost as if he said to the makeup artist, make me look like an evil David Bowie, and then decided that would fill in the blanks where his acting should have been. He has no emotion, no charisma, no intimidation, no screen presence, no pathos, no interest, and no interaction with Dumbledore. What he does have, however, is a skull-shaped bong that can predict the future. So you know, six of one…
Listen, I really hated this movie. The more I think about it, the angrier I feel. It really is a monumental waste of time with little to nothing of value. If I had to give it props on anything, I would say Dan Fogler is okay, the niffler is kind of cute, and the flashback in the crypt was so surreal I just had to laugh. If they really are going to force us to sit through three more of these, there had better be some major course correction. Please, for the love of god, let someone other than J.K. Rowling write the script. Dial in on the characters at the heart of the story. Flesh them out so that we actually care when they do things, instead of watching a bunch of boring people do nothing for two hours. Really this is the biggest issue plaguing this film, as Rowling, under mandate by the eternally stressed-out studio I’m sure, decided the way to make these films more likable was to cram in as much extraneous information about the wizarding world as possible instead of trying to make us even remotely invested in the characters at play here. No throwaway mention of a familiar spell, location, or character is worth anything if at the center of your film is a compelling and coherent story. I strongly advise against seeing The Crimes of Grindelwald. Even if you are a Harry Potter completionist, there are probably a million things that are more worth your time.