Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Dan Fogler, Callum Turner, Zoe Kravitz, Alison Sudol And Katherine Waterston
Director: David Yates
The Fantastic Beasts films are a strange cocktail – on one hand, they try to recreate the magic of the original Harry Potter films but on the other, there is absolutely no way to deny the fact that they are stories meant to piggyback on the success of the earlier films, rather than provide any unique entertainment value on their own. The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second film in the franchise, has more of the same concoction of ‘magic in the real word’ levity, but it is way grimmer and darker, a tone that works in fits and starts, but makes for an ultimately unremarkable movie.
Those who watched the previous film would of course know that the big bad Grindelwald was revealed in the finale and sent to prison. The second film is pretty straightforward – the villain has escaped prison and we are once again put in the shoes of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he teams up with his buddy Jacob (Dan Fogler) to track down the dark wizard. A young Dumbledore (Jude Law), who seems to have some history with Grindelwald, is particularly interested in putting him back in prison as the mystery behind Credence (Ezra Miller) continues to waft as a side plot.
Now, if you are a fan of the Potter films and even the previous one, you will find yourself enjoying almost every single element of The Crimes of Grindelwald. It has the same nervous stuttering physical comedy of Redmayne, more of the giant set pieces with lush CGI and swoopy impossible camera angles, a couple of fun action sequences with the usual light and sound magic that you expect from the Potterverse, and so forth. This is a film targeted specifically to its audience, not really looking to expand its reach. It is also fairly good looking, thanks to the sprawling production design and the cinematography, even if the colours are more muted than in the previous installment. And if you were in any way disappointed by Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore post Azkaban, you will be happy to know that Law is absolutely perfect in the role, oozing unexpected warmth in the midst of plot and aesthetic coldness.
But there are downsides – like the casting of Depp, who is even more uncharismatic here than in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Replacing Colin Farrell with Depp was a crucial mistake in the franchise because the former could have played a truly menacing character, as opposed to the cartoony costume shenanigans and out of depth-ness of Depp here. The fact that the film is crammed with a ton of side characters like Credence, Theseus (Callum Turner) and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravtiz), Queenie (Alison Sudol), Tina (Katherine Waterston) – all of which render a more lasting impression – Grindelwald seems like a second-tier dude played by guy who is not quite equipped to rise above everyone else the way Ralph Feinnes did as Voldemort.
There is also the issue of tone – where the film constantly swings from over the top darkness (like children dying) to silliness in a matter of minutes, and it does so throughout the film. The edit does not seamlessly blend together and reeks of many warring voices behind the film, causing an effect on overall coherence. There are good moments like commentary on the current political climate, but they are quickly brushed aside for the next less interesting ones, and the wheels of the film threaten to fall off. There is a nostalgic charm to be found in a scene that takes us back to Hogwarts – one wishes someone from the Potterverse came back and used the Elder Wand to fix the new franchise.