Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, Warner Bros. Pictures and Heyday Films)
Directed by David Yates. Written by J.K. Rowling. Featuring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Don Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Jude Law and Johnny Depp.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second in an expected series of five films set in the pre-Harry Potter years of the magical world invented by J.K. Rowling. Set in New York, London and Paris around 1927, it really has little to do with ‘fantastic beasts’. Rather it is a fantasy narrative of the ongoing battle between light and dark, a metaphorical commentary on contemporary social policies wrapped up in a puff of wizardry smoke.
The dark and powerful wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) escapes his imprisonment and soon organises a legion of wizardry followers to his cause, a destructive warfare against the emerging menace of the muggles (non-magical humans) world of the 20th Century. It is a battle for ‘the greater good’ to avert an even bigger violence if muggles are left to their own desire for powerful weapons of mass destruction and genocidal tendencies. He has no trouble finding recruits. On the other side of the fence are the British, American and French Ministries of Magic, trying to contain Grindelwald’s growing power and influence. A young Albus Dumbledor (Law) is perhaps Grindelwald’s only equal in power and skill, but he cannot face him due to a long-held pact between them, borne from an implied homosexual relationship in earlier years. But Dumbledore recruits Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to his cause, although Newt is initially reluctant. Both sides are trying to get to the powerful but mysterious and vulnerable Credence Barebones (Miller), who appears to have powers of brooding darkness that have yet to reach their potential. Like in the Harry Potter saga, friendship and loyalties and Ben Hur-styled jealousies provide the personal dynamics on the screen. Credence has Nagini (Claudia Kim), Newt has Tina Goldstein (Waterson), and Grindelwald and Dumbledore have a fractured bond. And brother and sister Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and Leta Lestrange (Kravitz) seek out Credence for their own emotionally seething motivations.
This second installment of the series is darker than the first. Which I like, but it means that the film is not really suitable for young children. And that’s problem 1: a characteristic feature of the film is a list of walk-on performances of child-appealing creatures with cute eyes or mischievous habits; and it just doesn’t fit with what materialises to be a much darker narrative. Problem 2: What the hell is going on? Answer: too much. The story is a miss-mash of plots and subplots and side stories, which have the feel of a great reveal in a later film, but in the meantime it is a hard slog of ‘snippets of mysteries’. It feels like a novel not quite yet rolled out; though there are some gems of writing in there. Some of the darker scenes and a particular speech by Grindelwald to his followers is characteristically menacing, but – what is impressive yet disturbing – it is appealing to bigotry, something that can be taken as a social comment on global politics today. I think Depp’s Grindelwald is one of the better elements of the film, but all the actors are credible. However, I find the lead character Newt somewhat uninteresting. And there’s a homage to a host of Potter characters in earlier days. The film suffers from a mix of trying to please Potter fans by having a series of guest appearances of certain characters and certain symbols. There is an awkward mix of dark, mist-soaked screens and then cute and fantastic animals, and an overly complicated plot, which no doubt will help explain some future film. And there are too many special effects of wizardry explosions and up-in-the-air electric clouds, fire and smoke, with accompanying menacing sound effects.
Technical features of the film; photography, sound, music, editing and effects (if over used) are all well done. Overall it is fair to say that there are some very good scenes, but as a film it is inconsistent.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5