FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD Review: 6 out of 10 (Expecto--Not Mucho)
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (I had to check the spelling twice) is the latest chapter in the greater Potterverse. directed by David Yates who directed the past 4 HP films and the previous BEASTS, it was developed by a screenplay from J. K. Rowling. The source material is a very slight book, so it is hardly an adaptation. Instead, Rowling and Warner Bros. are essentially creating new material here. And for the most rabid Potter fans, just going back to the Potterverse is probably enough for them. But based on quite a bit of untapped potential, this film series continues to flounder under its new franchise banner.
Eddie Redmayne stars here as Newt Scamander—a bookish and socially awkward Hufflepuff that only wants to study his veritable zoo of magical creatures. His character is an interesting one—one who doesn’t lead, adverse to conflict, and is reluctant to act. Though some audience members can certainly relate to his more introverted ways, Scamander continues to be the sort of character that, no doubt, some audience members will have a difficult time rooting for…other Hufflepuff types aside. Depp stars here as Grindelwald—an evil wizard who is out to do evil things, supposedly. His plan for world domination or perhaps wizardry despotism is never completely clear from the film. However, the film does make a (not too subtle) point to channel a strong Hitler vibe to the baddie. He even has a lair in Austria and hosts rallies—talking about the superiority of the wizarding “race.” But at the center of the conflict is Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller), who is a source of untapped wizarding power. Introduced in the previous film, Grindelwald sees Credence as the key to his wizarding world domination while Newt and Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) are seeking to find and save Credence from himself.
Essentially…the film ends up being nearly exactly the same plot structure as the previous one, with the addition of Depp’s baddie. Depp only appears briefly too, despite his character being the title of the film. Those hoping for a Dumbledore film will only be further disappointed as Jude Law’s role here is equally small. What remains, then, is Redmayne’s Newt and his comic relief buddy Jacob (played by Dan Fogler) along with Katherine Waterston returning as an auror (think wizard cop) and Zoe Kravitz as Leta LeStrange—a woman with mysterious ties to both Newt and Credence himself. In essence, a lot of interesting characters are running about doing really uninteresting things. The script is far too complicated—including a couple of story arcs that vary from implausible to confusing. The climax of the film includes one character who explains in detail an overly byzantine like explanation to solve and explain much of the plot, only to have another character pull a “Hold My Beer” moment and offer an even more complex account of what *really* happened. It seems as if Rowling is trying to overstuff the mystery here with an interweaving of characters, histories, and even some retcon of her previous work all to make things work. The result is a film that lags quite a bit—overcome by its long winded nature.
The good news for Potter fans is that FB: TCOG offers a few more callbacks to the source material and some stronger promises for what might come. Rowling is promising a 5-film series here, but so far much of what is here seems untapped potential. The promise of exploring the American Wizarding World of the Potterverse remains largely untapped. The new series continues to struggle to find a legitimate conflict to coalesce. The main character in Newt Scamander continues to be a sort of slight character that even after two films seems underdeveloped. Though some can connect with his aloofness, he lacks inspiration. But the most tragic loss here is that there isn’t really a sense of adventure, danger, or even tension. It is another beautiful trip into the wizarding world that holds a lot of potential—but still feels empty. Potter fans will get their fix, no question. But even the most ardent fans will struggle to argue that this is the film they *want* to see. For Potter addicts, the FANTASTIC BEASTS series is more like a methadone fix.