The Crimes of Relevancy
No one asked for a Harry Potter prequel series based off a textbook but when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them released, I was instantly captivated and transported back into the Wizarding World for fun, excitement, and intrigue. Expectations for The Crimes of Grindelwald have been high for me due to the fact that this is J.K. Rowling’s universe and script at play and she can do no wrong. Or so I thought? The Crimes of Grindelwald takes most of my fears for this new series and turns them into reality. Inconsistent, meandering, slow, and questionable are never words I want to describe a Harry Potter movie with, but these are the first thoughts to pop in my head as I left the theater. Where oh where did you go wrong J.K. Rowling??
To clarify, I love the Harry Potter franchise so much. It is by far my favorite book series and movie franchise of all time. I don’t mean to seem down on this movie as there are definitely some elements that work namely Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald, Jude Law’s Dumbledore, and the direction this film sets up for the next three installments. However as a whole movie, this feels more like a “part 2 of 5” rather than a complete narrative in its own right.
The new film picks up a few months after the first one, with Grindelwald escaping prison and beginning his plans to dominate the Wizarding World. At the center of the conflict is Newt Scamander who is brought into the fold by Albus Dumbledore looking to stop Grindelwald’s rise to power. Newt must reunite with his old friends and set on a quest to find Credence (Ezra Miller) and keep him out of Grindelwald’s clutches.
The plot definitely has a lot of stories and subplots to follow making this film feel too bloated with very little payoff. In fact we have three main stories here at play: Grindelwald’s rise to power, Newt and his friends trying to find Credence and stop Grindelwald (more of the former), and Credence’s journey to discover who he really is. There is a lot to get through and none of it reaches a finite resolution by the time the movie ends. I understand that this is part 2 of a larger story but even the more stuffed Harry Potter films had a contained story of their own while being part of a larger one.
The main problem that I take with the plot is that barely anything makes any progress until the third act of the film and that is where I found I really started to enjoy myself. The first two acts are our heroes doing the same thing: providing exposition and consistently trying to figure out their romantic lives. Little is given to flesh out the characters we have, but instead we are introduced to a multitude of new characters that also do not feel relevant. There is barely any development of the larger story and no actual story contained in this film. It is all just set up for a far more interesting film to come.
And for a film titled The Crimes of Grindelwald, the focus of the story really isn’t about Grindelwald unfortunately, but rather Credence. Ezra Miller returns to portray the sunken, abused, and moody teen from the first film as he struggles to come to terms with who he is and what his purpose is. Credence is the main focus of the story as Newt and his friends want to keep him away from Grindelwald as Grindelwald tries to lure his magical potential into his clutches. He is the Macguffin in the movie and the whole plot is centered around “finding Credence” or “who is Credence” or “what is Credence doing” rather than focusing on what the films titled promises us. We aren’t even given enough to care about Credence as there isn’t enough time devoted to developing his character, but rather intrigue the audience as to who he might be related to. It isn’t who you’re related to, its the person you and from this movie I wasn’t given anything to care about Credence as a character.
However, anything that does involve the titular character Grindelwald is mesmerizing and intriguing. Johnny Depp captivates you from the opening moments of the film that truly show you what this dark wizard is capable of. Being the villain of the Harry Potter franchise is hard to follow after Voldemort, but there is a far more interesting dynamic to Grindelwald. While Voldemort is all evil and hatred, Grindelwald is capable of sympathy, persuaviness, and dominance making him a far more interesting character than Voldemort was portrayed in the films. Depp’s performance is not over the top but rather subdued, quiet, and patient. Every time he is on screen, I was invested to see what he would do next. He is an enriching and complex character that I can’t wait to see what becomes of him in the rest of the series.
Grindelwald is such an interesting character due to the foil that has been established with Jude Law’s Dumbledore. While Law’s performance is not as dynamic as Depp’s, Law is able to portray a younger version of the Dumbledore we knew from before seamlessly and does the character justice. The emotion that Dumbledore portrays when talking about Grindelwald is intriguing and had me craving more of that relationship than what I was given. Law doesn’t do anything unique with Dumbledore himself nor does the script explore how he became the man he is today, but that may be saved for another film as this is just an introduction to who this version is.
Newt and his friends Queenie, Tina, and Jacob all return from the first film and while it is still fun to see them, their involvement in this story is brought into question by the films end. Newt still remains the adorkable, quiet, and passionate character we knew from the first film. As the “protagonist” of this series, he is easily likable and doesn’t hail from some big legacy but rather does things because they are right. His character is developed a little bit more but not much for me to continue to stay invested in him or understand why he is involved in this story. The same can be said for the other characters as well except no development is really given to them for me to care about. Again, they are fun to see but I don’t understand where their characters are going in this larger story.
I know I am not supposed to understand everything since this is only part 2 of 5, but I don’t see any justification as to how Newt and his friends need to be involved with Grindelwald and his rise to power. The first film was fun because we got to see a wide assortment of creatures and Newts search for them while simultaneously being organically drawn into the Grindelwald conflict. Here it feels like they are disconnected from everything and only being drawn in due to their small involvement with Credence. The story shouldn’t revolve around Newt and his friends in my opinion, it should revolve around Grindelwald because that’s what the film’s title promises us!!!
You see when I think of a story around Grindelwald, I want to see a multitude of things including his relationship with Dumbledore, his rise to power, and his motivation. We get the latter two briefly in the third act of the film and that is where I started becoming invested. Seeing how someone like Voldemort gets all of his followers at the beginning of his rule and what drives him to want dominion over the Wizarding World is interesting. Seeing other characters wrestle with Grindelwald’s morals too is interesting as well, but sadly it all comes in the last 30 minutes. Instead we have to sit through dialogue, exposition, and a few spells here and there that frankly can’t retain the magic from the first film.
And then there are the twists and turns this story takes that throw the entire Harry Potter franchise, books and movies alike, into question. J.K. Rowling did pen this script and is writing the remainder of the stories as far as I know. She always has a plan and builds something of a larger story that has a payoff. But at this time, the twists and reveals she has are confusing and leave rooms for a lot of plot holes for die hard Harry Potter fans. Even more casual fans will be confused and that is never a good sign.
However, even though this film is filler and is clearly a set up movie for things to come I am still holding out hope. This is easily the weakest of all the Harry Potter films and doesn’t move the plot forward much, but the film ends with enough potential and material to possibly sustain three more films. Grindelwald is a captivating villain and his relationship with Dumbledore leaves for more to be explored. Newt and his friends while fun to watch ultimately hinder the plot and don’t bring any clear relevance to the story at the time. Not enough is done with this story to fully justify its existence as a film but rather could have been better with a T.V. episode. I am hopeful that J.K. Rowling has great things in store, but for now I am massively and heartbreakingly disappointed.
Read my review of the first film too: