Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Even the title struggles to roll off the tongue and the film is a complete reflection of this. A jumbled mess with an incoherent plot and five more main characters than it needed, the latest Wizarding World film is further testament to the problem with movies today. Everything must be big. Everything must be a cinematic universe. Everything must be Marvel. But why can’t it just be its own thing? When it works, it works well and recaptures some of the (if you pardon the pun) magic of the original Harry Potter films yet instead these sparks are crammed between constant exposition and dumb action that’s simply trying to set up the next installment. I’m afraid the spark has gone out.
First, let’s address what works. The production is, of course, beautiful with outstanding visual effects and set design: the one constant throughout this whole franchise. The performances are also stellar with Eddie Redmayne charming as always returning as the awkward wizard zoologist Newt Scamander. He is supported by Jude Law as a younger Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as the titular Grindelwald. Both are extremely engaging and give the film some of its most captivating moments. I admit it’s strange to see an actor like Depp in such a British franchise but he thankfully restrains himself from giving one of his more outlandish performances. Behind these three are a large ensemble cast that is unfortunately left in the dark for most of the film. With so many characters it becomes hard to emphasize with their choices and the allegiances they picked in the final confrontation honestly left me baffled. It seemed to be made simply on the convenience of setting up the next chapter; the next part of a story we already know the end of.
For such a formulaic plot on the surface, the audience is thrown into a tornado as it unfolds, jumping between so many strands that we have nothing to latch on to and are left feeling somehow both bored and shocked when the final battle finally rears its head out of nowhere. One particular scene in a mausoleum seemed to go on forever and felt neither earned nor entertaining; as proven by the snores from either side of me. If the focus was kept on the smaller moments, detached from this convoluted main plot, then the film wouldn’t feel so rushed or empty. These short scenes may just feature Newt taming one of his creatures or Dumbledore reflecting solemnly yet they are brimming with the magic fans and filmgoers want and need from this kind of film.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a terrible film, it is simply misguided. Yet another franchise has fallen into the alluring trap of the cinematic universe and has lost what made it special in the first place. What makes this so much harder is the remaining slither of magic that can still bring wonder to the eyes of the audience; now trapped in a cage of convolution.