Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the 2018 sequel to the 2016’s film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The second attempt at expanding the Harry Potter’s universe by J.K. Rowling has been received with mix sentiment at best. Much has been said about the multimillionaire author’s casting choices and changes to the Harry Potter lore, but beyond all that, Crimes of Grindelwald suffers from something far worse: missed potential.
Director David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling, who have worked together since Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, reunite to continue Newt Scamander’s story. Along with returning actors such as Eddie Redmayne (Newt), Ezra Miller (Credence), Dan Fogler (Jacob) and Katherine Waterson (Tina), Crimes of Grindelwald officially introduces Johnny Deep as the titular villain and Jude Law as a younger, dashier version of Albus Dumbledore.
The film opens with a spectacular magical prison break that promises a far different movie, then briefly returns to Newt. Six months after his New York adventure, the wizard has been banned from traveling internationally but is offered the opportunity to regain his status if he agrees to hunt down Credence. He categorically refuses to do so, instead deciding to take upon Dumbledore’s mission – to help Credence instead of killing him.
But this is merely one of the many plots we are expected to follow. An intricate web of motivations and politics, Crimes of Grindelwald attempts to explain itself between beast-filled action scenes and long-drawn expositional dialogue. With four main characters, five secondary characters, and a small group of villains, the script pulls and pushes us around from one set piece to another, assuming the viewer will care enough to pay attention.
Sometimes James Newton Howard’s score will become whimsical, announcing a pause to the dreary events and the start of funny little sequences where the titular fantastical beasts decide to pop up and make themselves known. But those are short and often too disconnected from everything else. They feel like a desperate attempt at connecting the radically different promises the series has made to its audience.
Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them also suffered from a lack of focus, but at least it had its heart in the right place, taking its time to introduce the main four characters and establish their dynamics. Unfortunately, the sequel keeps them separated for a good portion of the movie and they disappear among everything else. No matter what was happening, Harry, Ron, and Hermione faced it together, coming up with plans and sharing information. Unlike them, Newt, Tina, Jacob, and Queenie have the tendency to keep things to themselves and wander off alone.
The real frustration is that Crimes of Grindelwald has exciting and compelling stories to tell. One of the new side characters, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), has a powerful backstory, yet in a movie stuffed with so many subplots to the point there is no clear main plot, she spends most of the time standing around. The same can be said for Credence and Nagini (Claudia Kim), Voldemort’s future snake pet, who are together in most scenes but rarely interact in a meaningful way.
The problem with a mystery story that takes this long to unravel itself is that while the ending might make sense, the journey to get that is cluttered with red herrings and dead ends. It seems J.K. Rowling has forgotten that what made her previous series magical had nothing to do with secret siblings and blood packs, and everything to do with small victories and character moments. Whatever mystery Harry had to face, he and his friends would be the focus. The political machinations and betrayals of adults remained in the background, merely supporting the main trio’s journey.
This time J.K. Rowling is less concerned with character growth and more determined to tell Dumbledore’s backstory through the eyes of poor Newt, whose shy and introverted nature might’ve offered a different kind of journey, challenging Hollywood’s formulaic heroes, but in this particular plot feels lost and reactive. With three more movies planned, it’s hard to dismiss the series altogether, yet one must wonder if there’s enough interest to keep audiences coming back. Will the increasingly convoluted plots scare away casual viewers? And will Rowling’s constant changes to her own lore turn her fans against the series? It’s too early to tell, but perhaps too late to fix it.
Crimes of Grindelwald give us thousands of pieces of different puzzles, and as such, we never have the chance to see the entire picture. Too concerned to move its pawns to the right places at the right times, the movie never stops to tell us why we should care.