The follow up to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, David Yates and JK Rowling return as director and screenwriter respectively for The Crimes of Grindelwald. Returning to the world of magic a few months after the events of Fantastic Beasts we reunite with Newt Scamander and company with the aid of the amazing creatures he encounters to put an end the machinations of Grindelwald. Taking place primarily in Paris, the characters are separately for the most part and by the film’s end all contribute to it’s dramatic conclusion. Fantastic Beasts based on a short fictional guide of Newt Scamander written by JK Rowling to accompany the Harry Potter series means the film is a brand new concept and following that up with Crimes of Grindelwald means steering away from the tracking down magical creatures and combating Grindelwald which is to its detriment. While still a visually striking and evocative film and with an interesting story, Crimes of Grindelwald is a really good movie but less captivating and enjoyable as it moves away from the heart of its predecessor.
Crimes of Grindelwald sees Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) still working towards maintaining the safety of rare creatures, he is pulled into events after Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) escape as he was key to his previous capture in New York and the assumed death of Credance Barebone (Ezra Miller) in the prior film. Newt’s quest to protect endangered magical creatures has resulted in the British ministry of magic banning him from travelling abroad and he declines their offer to join them to kill Credance. This adds to the complicated nature of Newt’s relationship with his brother Thadeus (Callum Turner) and his former close friend and soon to be sister in law Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz).
He is however drawn in after speaking to Dumbledore who appeals to Newt’s caring nature and good heart. This further puts him at odds with his brother and the ministry but also through this conversation we also find out he was the reason he was in New York also. Credance had found himself in Paris and fell in with a magical circus and befriend Nagini (Claudia Kim), a woman cursed to be a maledictus so can turn into a snake at will eventually would be permanent. Grindelwald is in Paris to find Credance as is Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) with her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) following shortly behind. Arriving separately but drawn together sides are chosen in the wizard civil war between anonymity from non magical world and peaceful co-existence that Newt is trying to maintain or as Grindelwald plans, reveal themselves and take charge of the whole world while enslaving non magic users.
As a spin off to the Harry Potter film series and being directed by David Yates who also directed the latter half of that series as well, of course set it the same world you definitely feel like stepping into that world again, albeit set several decades beforehand. Like in the Potter films that Yates directed it is also taking place in a dark era of the magic world with Grindelwald’s schemes and plots much like Voldemort later in time and coincidentally having similar rhetoric so it makes sense to have Yates continue directing as well as JK Rowling as writer. Yates does well to show the reluctant hero and with much the same cast and a few newcomers brings out solid performances, especially Eddie Redmayne. Set approximately 50 years before Harry Potter, the prequel series here fleshes out the world more with nods and references to fans of the books and previous movies which may be lost on new fans and while to those viewers some aspects may seem out of place doesn’t subtract from the overall experience. With a planed further 3 movies in the Fantastic Beasts series it is difficult to say but it seems like including Nagini and others like Nicholas Flamel are more fan service and may be a detriment to the end product.
In reprising the role, Eddie Redmayne is again fantastic as Newt Scamander and similar to his portrayal of Steven Hawking in A Theory of Everything gives a performance, both with dialogue and physical mannerisms, that encapsulates the character and really makes the film. We see Newt as knowing there are big events going on but wants to stay out of it and focus on helping magical creatures around the world but also compelled to do the right thing. Possibly even more so than Fantastic Beasts we see the instant connection Newt has with even the scarier creatures and how he struggles to engage with his fellow humans which really is a testament to Redmayne’s acting skill. Newt struggles to relate with most people including his brother and love interest Tina when trying to correct a mix up, he is much more at easy with other animals. A fine example of this being when a giant lion like creature (think Falcor from Neverending Story but feline) escapes the magic circus and is running through Paris, Newt faces it down and pacifies it with what can only be described as a cat toy and later seen the same creature playfully embracing him.
One side effect of the multiple separate storylines is that other characters don’t get as much to do or time to develop especially the new ones but Johnny Depp’s portrayal as Grindelwald does gets it due. We get a much better sense of the scope of his following and how he reads people to manipulate them or come around to his way of thinking to further his pro magic users agenda. There was a moment when there is an inconvenience for Grindelwald and the solution involves a line he won’t cross and when one of his inner circle does so he seems to regret that it happens which gave more dimension to Depp’s Grindelwald and perhaps later influences his attitude later in the film. The film doesn’t detail how but that Grindelwald has some knowledge of what is to happen in the future and uses this to further convince his pro magic user path is just but also knowing some future events and trying to prevent them may be his overall goal instead of just a scare tactic. The busy story also meant there wasn’t alot of time to see these characters but Tina again was excellent as feeling responsible still for Credence and interacting with the bumbling Newt but definitely could have a bigger presence.
The reason for everyone going to Paris is of course Credence. Still a young man struggling with who he is but now more in control of his powers and seeking to find his biological family all the while being hunted as either a threat or a tool except for Newt and Tina who want to help him. Ezra Miller’s portrayal is again solid and empathise with his struggle as we continue to follow his story and possibly the connection between him and Nagini is their respective curses and struggle with their dark side. Perhaps paving the way for the future but was a bit of a let down with bringing in Dumbledore, Leta Lestrange and Nagini as they felt more plot devices than actual characters. We do see Leta in flashbacks to when she and Newt were at Hogwarts but that again is more plot device and to further Newt’s backstory but like Tina hopefully there is more to come in the planned three future films.
I mentioned it somewhat earlier but even though they are on the backburner we do see some more fantastic beasts including returning favourites Pick the bowtruckle and the niffler who also play key parts in their own right. The lion Falcor creature did look amazing and as a pet owner did enjoy it’s reaction to the cat toy Newt possesses. One thing I really enjoy about the Potterverse is the magical creatures and Crimes of Grindelwald didn’t disappoint in that regard with the look and animation except wanting more of course. Shifting the main location to Paris gave a chance to show magic in Europe and was well done with incorporating the culture and architecture into transitioning to their wizard area akin to Diagon Alley with more features like moving statues and so on. This area of Paris though, aside from the aforementioned circus, is much like the muggle areas with cafes and shops etc which I was also glad of by not being over the top. Sadly not much beyond what was in the trailer but Hogwarts is also back and was nice to see that castle again.
The parallel storylines converge with all the characters meeting to engage with Grindelwald in one way or another and leads to a special effect filled battle and without spoiling anything does show the extent of Grindelwald’s power and what he is willing to do to further his cause. Along with the special effects aside from Newt and a couple others surviving it was unknown exactly what would happen which improved the experience and spectacle. Prior to this battle though Grindelwald gives a speech summarising his agenda and plans and did give pause to wonder if he had a point which adds to his character being more three dimensional and a more compelling villain. The message behind his speech was one step away from make magic great again and while proposing kicking out all the muggles and building a wall did remind me of Trump’s fearmongering so an interesting aspect today and especially when being written and filmed.
Overall Crimes of Grindelwald is a really good film which I enjoyed a lot but felt like diverging away from the fantastic beasts and too much on Grindelwald plot and from the ending don’t see that changing much with future films. With great performances from Redmayne and Depp despite other great actors especially Law and Waterston not getting much to do with their I definitely recommend as it still gives a solid story, great effects and while a bit too much jammed into the plot as a jump off point for the next 3 films and leaning too much into fan service for big fans of Harry Potter but not to negatively affect the film for new people to the franchise.