Watching a dumpster fire, you often get to see amazing visuals, but it is not an altogether pleasant experience. This was true for me while watching Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The second installment in the five-part Harry Potter prequel series boasts nonsensical dialogue and an incomprehensible plot, and retains nothing of what the previous movie had to offer. The first movie, Fantastic Beasts, had an overall fun feel, and expertly wove in the darker elements of the story without making them overpowering. This film does a complete 180, and the entire movie feels like a gritty, depressing, and confusing mess.
The film begins shortly after the events of the first. The Dark Wizard Grindelwald (played by an albino Johnny Depp suffering from an unexplained an unnecessary heterochromia), who had been imprisoned by the American Ministry of Magic, is due for a transfer to another prison. His escape, which is sadly one of the more interesting action sequences of the film, was about as inevitable and predictable as my family going over its monthly data limit. As most of the characters are in different countries at this point in the movie, the next forty five minutes are spent moving nearly a dozen different characters to the same location. Coherent plot lines appear to have been given up in favor of the individual and spastic points that form the shambolic quagmire that is this movie.
Even the film’s star-studded cast is not enough to save The Crimes of Grindelwald. Johnny Depp’s controversy-ridden inclusion in this film does not appear to pay off. Much of his performance is dedicated to whispering semi-coherent sentences in a British accent that is so fake, I have to wonder if he even tried. In the previous film, Colin Farrell brought a calm, cool, and collected performance as a sophisticated and poised villain worthy of a Bond film. Jude Law appears as a young Albus Dumbledore, who true to form, offers cryptic advice to the protagonists and spends the remainder of the film sitting on the sidelines.
Due to the overloaded plot, both new and old characters are given little time to develop and impact the plot meaningfully. Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) gets a few lines of comic relief and then looks in awe as his friends use magic. Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) are reduced from powerful Witches to lovestruck and mopey bit characters. Newcomers Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and a human Nagini (Claudia Kim) aren’t given their chance to take the spotlight and remain one-dimensional. Kama is on the warpath for past wrongs committed against his family, and Nagini has a blood curse that will one day transform her into a snake. These two characters get no further development than their backgrounds. Callum Turner portrays Theseus Scamander, Newt’s (Eddie Redmayne) straight-laced older brother. Besides looking nervous and chasing Newt, Turner does not get the opportunity to do any more impressive acting until the movie’s finale.
The only character introduced in this movie who really makes an impact is the emotionally traumatized Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). Leta was essentially Newt’s school sweetheart, but is now engaged to his brother Theseus. Leta’s backstory is told in flashbacks over the course of the film, and is by far one of the more interesting parts of the movie. To the film’s credit, they spend more time developing her as a character rather than focusing on what would have been a bothersome and unnecessary love triangle.
The movie is extremely heavy-handed with its World War II imagery. Much of the characters were said to have fought in the Wizard equivalent of World War I, which had ended shortly before the events of the first film. Grindelwald is a symbolic “Wizard Nazi” through and through, from his Aryan haircut to his desire to rule over the inferior Muggles, who, in his mind, lack the magical powers and intelligence of Wizards and Witches. This would have all been far more interesting had it actually lead up to something climactic. Unfortunately, however, it never does.
This movie throws so much at you, making what should have been a fun and entertaining experience into what felt like an eternity of pain. As a longtime fan of the Harry Potter books and film series, I was beyond disappointed. I pray with a fervor that will make the Rabbis proud that screenwriter JK Rowling and director David Yates get their act together for the future films.