The crimes of Grindelwald are apparently many but the crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald are doubly so. This dreary snooze-fest puckers up to give the once-beloved franchise the Dementor’s Kiss, bewitching the audience with an irresistible urge to shutter their eyelids and be whisked off to that warm and welcoming valley of sleep – wherein they would miss little that couldn’t be summed up in a few throwaway sentences of recap. In two-plus-hours of screen time, this sequel to the somewhat mildly-received Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them manages little more than to draw battle lines in the sand, introducing a few new bland characters and then shuffling the deck for the inevitable, and presumably more-engaging, skirmishes to come.
An utter mess from top to bottom, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald confirms the haunting specter of diminishing return, with advances in VFX magic leading to decidedly less magical storytelling. The technical wizardry is not to be ignored, the film seamlessly bringing to life the wizarding world that Newt Scamader (Eddie Redmayne, screwy as ever), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, contractually obligated to have a wonky haircut), Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, more a cameo than anything) and the titular Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, the accidental highlight here) live in but it’s so preoccupied in cracking its knuckles and painting digital flourishes hither and thither that it forgets how to tell a good story. Not to draw stark comparisons – I fully believe that this spin-off series should be a beast all its own – but Harry Potter succeeded in part by baking the magic and incantations into the story. The three tots would transform or disappear or turn their aunt into a fleshy balloon as a means to advance the plot. The story didn’t stop so the films could show off what the digital animators were capable of. In Beasts, the actual incantations have become but mere window dressings; pitstops to desperately attempt to liven up affairs and give kids in the audience something to dazzle over.
J.K. Rowling has promised fans a full five films in this Fantastic Beasts series and what may have seemed a gift has been revealing to be a full-blown curse. Moving at a glacial pace, The Crimes of Grindelwald feels like a movie constantly on the brink of beginning but the starting gun is jammed; momentum failing to make an appearance until literally the last 30-odd minutes. In addition to Grindelwald being an utter bore, Rowling (who claims exclusive screenwriting credit) fails to invigorate our interest in the characters priorly established, mistaking silly haircuts for characterization and somehow making me second-guess liking these characters a little bit in the first place.
Newt is quirk given two-left feet and a sharp overcoat (seriously, I want his jacket) and it’s hard to pretend Redmayne doesn’t fail completely rounding out the should-be-hero of this franchise; he’s as much a pest as his suitcase full of never-quite-fantastic beasts. Dan Foley is back as non-mag Brooklynite Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who last we saw had forgotten all this magic business and was running a successful bakery among the muggle community. When Jacob shows up at Newt’s place of residence, Crimes of Grindelwald reveals its masterplan – forget everything about the first movie and try to start from scratch.
Falling in with this mentality, the film directed by long-time franchise mainstay David Yates – who here has completely lost his touch for human chemistry – commits his next unforgivable curse, raising Ezra Miller’s Creedence from the grave, him somehow surviving a suicide bombing from the last film – a film I quite frankly remember very little about. This bit of narrative necromancy is just another example of the revisionist tripe infecting Grindelwald – the masterminds behind it only figured out what to do with a character like Creedence once he was already dead and gone. But I digress. From here, the film folds into a one-note mystery – who is Creedence and who were his parents? For those lamenting The Last Jedi’s hotly-contested decision to turn Rey’s parents into faceless nobodies, The Crimes of Grindelwald is deathly dull proof that a franchise this obsessed with lineage is much ado about nothing.
In many ways, The Crimes of Grindelwald feels no shame in admitting that there is no grand scheme, no well-drafted governing storyline that plotted where people would move throughout this drawn-out storyline, that Rowling and Yates are playing fast and loose with this stable of characters, throwing various strands against the wall and seeing what sticks. Instead, they lay face-up beneath WB’s behemoth cash cow milking as slowly as audiences will let them get away with. Without the guiding light of well-trod source material, the wizarding world flounders, drowning in its own BS. And like standing on a hangman’s mark, the bottom falls out from under Rowling’s creation, leaving her story dead as a doornail. All before it ever truly began.
CONCLUSION: Where once magic thrived, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald’ spells are but a black-hole of wonder. The opposite of alchemy, the spin-off sequel turns what was once gold into a gloomy pile of coal, defined by a total lack of energy, a turgid plot, and a desperate reliance on digital wizardry to overcome the total lack of storytelling magic.