WARNING: Contains minor spoilers.
The end of the Fantastic Beasts series’ first installation left us with an imprisoned Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), an Obscurial fragment who seems to have escaped the destruction of the Obscurus, and a couple of budding love stories. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up the action right where it was left off. The beginning is dark and gripping, showing Grindelwald escaping from prison in New York with the help of a rogue American Auror. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) also has a less-than-delightful meeting with his brother and an unsurprisingly confusing meeting with young Dumbledore (Jude Law). We get to catch a glimpse of the zoo of magical creatures Scamander harbours in his house – and can I just say that riding a Kelpie beats all water sports?
After Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob’s (Dan Fogler) impromptu visit to London, Newt ends up in Paris looking for Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Credence (Ezra Miller) at Dumbledore’s suggestion. What happens next is a mix of magic, betrayal, loyalty, and guilt. Darker than any of the other films from the Harry Potter universe, The Crimes of Grindelwald has an adult tone. The title is intriguing, alluding to the eponymous wizard creating havoc and troubles, but in reality it feels like he somehow isn’t allowed centre stage and has to take a step back, giving way to various subplots.
The film features old and new characters in abundance – so many it is hard to keep count of them. Introducing a plethora of characters that all seem important and are mini Easter eggs for fans seem to be central to the film. J.K. Rowling, screenwriter and author of the original Harry Potter series, gets overexcited and introduces key characters to the Harry Potter universe who are quickly tossed aside to make room for new ones with every twist of the plot.Therefore, few characters have space to develop and conquer the minds and hearts of the audience. Queenie and Jacob have a likable development on their own and as a pair, and Newt and Tina share a few awkward moments. Grindelwald seems utterly delightful (albeit wearing too much powder) for such a bonafide bad guy. He’s clever and cunning, and we hope the wizarding world can see through his carefully-constructed Nazi-esque propaganda.
The main story is slightly blemished by minor subplots that lead to a dead end, like when Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) takes centre stage as the love interest of Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) while focusing on the death of her brother – just for her story to end suddenly. Similarly, Credence’s unlikely companion and massive Harry Potter Easter egg Nagini (Claudia Kim) stands out as odd; she doesn’t seem to be part of any group and although potentially interesting and likeable, is not given an opportunity to shine.
It seems that Rowling still writes film scripts as if they were novels and, as a result, they are highly lyrical but confusing and full of information. In the case of important details in Crimes of Grindelwald, if you blink, you miss it. The film is full of threads that are woven together and left unfinished, leading to the next film. (A friend described it as J.K. Rowling doing an Empire Strikes Back; I’d say it’s Empire Strikes Back meets the prequels). The Crimes of Grindelwald is also not as thrilling as the title makes it out to be, although admittedly, as someone hopelessly in love with Paris, some of the scenes stirred something sentimental inside of me. The final act of the film was, however, very good. Every line lands, complemented by an excellent score. The reveal that takes place in its final act is very theatrical and raises many questions that I bet will be answered in classic Rowling style. It’s a plot twist that at the moment seems highly improbable and needs another massive plot twist to answer the questions it raises.
Darker than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald takes us deeper on an enjoyable journey into the world of Harry Potter. It’s a shame that, with its many subplots and characters that are not given enough time to develop, the film feels claustrophobic and unpolished. Maybe they should have called it Fantastic Beasts: The Plot Thickens.