The Movie Guru: “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” much darker than its predecessor
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What: “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Rated: PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.
Screenplay by: J.. Rowling.
Directed by: David Yates.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoe Kravitz, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol and more.
Grade: Two and a half stars.
This is where things start to get grim.
Remember in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” where the ending made us realize that things were only going to get worse from there? Author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling has sped up the process with “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” a much darker movie than its predecessor. It’s a straightforward look at the early days of war, lightened only by a scattering of moments that genuinely feel like magic. Rowling is asking us to settle in for a fight, but with some potentially questionable canon decisions, it’s possible not everyone will be willing.
The movie starts six months after the first one, with Grindelwald’s dramatic escape from prison. Then we jump ahead three more months to poor Newt, who’s been stuck in England due to a travel ban since the first film. Both the government and a young Albus Dumbledore try to recruit him into the fight, but it’s some old friends from America — and the promise of seeing one more — that really gets him moving. Elsewhere, Queenie struggles with magical law, and Credence tries to find out more about his past.
In some ways, “Crimes of Grindelwald” feels less like its own movie and more like the first half of a larger film. We watch the characters get into deeper and deeper trouble, but nothing comes close to getting resolved. While this is a portion of the story worth telling, it feels like the movie ends just as the story is gearing up.
Even a smaller resolution would have helped alleviate the resulting frustration, but all we get is the deep dark secret of a character we haven’t had time to know or care about. Another possible resolution, Newt repairing his relationship with his brother, isn’t given enough screen time to have any real resonance.
The movie’s complicated attachment to canon might also cause trouble for people. The connection between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which was explored in the Harry Potter series, is a major plot point in “Crimes.” If you’re not familiar with the earlier build-up, however, it might be hard to get invested in it here. Conversely, Rowling delivers some plot revelations that might upset longtime fans because they make a complete mess of established canon (Nagini, a snake from the original films, for example, being identified as a cursed woman, isn’t even the most dramatic one).
Thankfully, there are areas of some inarguable delights. The movie’s character moments, especially for the main foursome, are all well done, even when they break your heart. If you loved a character before, odds are you’ll still love them here. Rowling also gives Newt a few nice moments with some magical creatures, particularly early in the movie, and the creatures themselves are for the most part as beautiful as they were in the last film. Jude Law is also fantastic as a young Albus Dumbledore.
There’s still some magic left in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Sadly, there’s not as much as you might hope for.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.