“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” originally excited “Harry Potter” fans with its promise to bring audiences back to their favorite fictional place: Hogwarts. Yet, viewers anticipating an exhilarating return to the magical world of the famed school will be disappointed by the second installation of J.K. Rowling’s spin-off series.
The excitement surrounding the announcement by Warner Bros. was marred by calls of concern that the films would tarnish the beloved franchise’s reputation. The first film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” averted this problem by providing viewers with new experiences — separate from the original films — as the movie placed audiences inside of a completely new magical universe in New York City. Moreover, the film was distinct enough from the original “Harry Potter” series for viewers to enjoy a new story rather than expect the same series.
The second film in the series fails to do the same. Instead, “Crimes of Grindelwald” blurs the lines too much between the two series. No longer set in New York City like the first “Fantastic Beasts” film, the movie, also directed by David Yates, shifts awkwardly between Paris, London and Hogwarts.
In the “Crimes of Grindelwald,” Albus Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, brings in Newt Scamander to help fight the growing rise of Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald, who is rapidly gaining a following of pure-blood wizards in his quest to achieve dominion over the magical world after escaping from government custody. Depp’s casting led to backlash among fans because of 2016 domestic abuse allegations against Depp.
Despite its busy and superficial plot, the film treats viewers to humor along with the action. Eddie Redmayne’s quirky charm shines through as the bashful Scamander while Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski maintains an enjoyable naivete as he learns to navigate the wizarding world.
Many of the first movie’s essential characters, however, such as the adorable wizard-and-Muggle couple, Jacob and Alison Sudol’s Queenie, spend the second film tangled in weak subplots that fail to substantially contribute to the main story, leaving viewers confused about their purpose.
Furthermore, the film fails to properly introduce several new characters, forcing audiences to decide whether they missed something or should just dismiss the value of the characters altogether. Zoë Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange stands as the only exception. Kravitz successfully conveys her character’s struggle to balance her love for the two Scamander brothers in the film against the darkness of her past.
Finally, the film complicates some of the character narratives as they were written in the original series by introducing new, mishandled takes on them. The movie emphasizes a young Dumbledore and a human Nagini, played by Claudia Kim, previously only known as Voldemort’s snake, instead of staying true to its own namesake.
While Law’s performance retains the cleverness and well–timed quips audiences have come to expect of Dumbledore, the “Fantastic Beasts” adaption of the famous headmaster feels incongruent with the rest of his story. Rowling had previously revealed that Dumbledore was gay after all the books had finished being released.
Even though the introduction of Grindelwald into the second “Fantastic Beasts” film provided the creators with an opportunity to finally expand on Dumbledore’s character through a conversation about his sexuality, they instead opted for a quick, vague cop-out that amounts to little more than a sly, witty line and improperly addresses this subject.
Additionally, the filmmakers failed to properly develop Kim’s human version of Nagini. Rather than building a substantive, active character, they primarily leave her on the sidelines, feeding into the controversy that originally surrounded this new revelation about the character.
For viewers who wish to be enchanted by impressive special effects, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” will prove to be a good time. Audiences concerned with the quality of the Wizarding World franchise, however, will be disappointed by the chaos of the film, the lack of character development and the absence of substance in its plot.
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