Principal Cast : Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Carmen Ejogo, Brontis Jodorowsky, Fiona Glascott, Poppy Corby-Teuch, Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Victoria Yates.
Synopsis: Set in 1927, it follows Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledore as they attempt to take down the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald while facing new threats in a more divided wizarding world.
Palpably emotionless, the machinations of JK Rowling’s increasingly dour Wizarding World continue to confound and befuddle standard muggles such as myself, with The Crimes of Grindelwald suffocating the joy out of the Harry potter franchise with yet another overstuffed, incomprehensible mish-mash of visual effects, solid production design and David Yates’ steady, by-the-numbers direction. I’m on record as intensely disliking the original Fantastic Beasts film – as an adjunct of the main Harry Potter franchise it utterly lacks the same charm, wit and youthful enthusiasm, mainly because of the absence of the enigmatic Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe – and I’m going to make similar claims against this second film here. Crimes of Grindelwald is not a terrible film, and I’m sure Potterheads across the world found it mesmerising in many ways, but to me it’s as inertly indifferent as the author who penned it.
By this point I’m convinced that David Yates should not be the one to continue to bring the Wizarding World to the screen; I think his final few Harry Potter movies were more a fluke than driven by creative vision for the property, because both the original Fantastic Beasts and now this film seem to suffer from delusions of self importance. Gone is the wonder and satisfying payoff to a decade of storylines and instead, we’re given either incredibly shallow bad guys, nonsensical supporting characters, or central leads to whom we have no emotional attachment. Yates’ inability to make the world of the Wizards seem as magical as it should be is critical to the tone of this sequel, which spends a lot of time trying to be magical and coming off as just another VFX-heavy showreel of clever franchise subversions of everyday things.
Sadly, Eddie Redmayne seems utterly lost by his inclusion in this movie. I’ll be honest, if his character – the name of which I simply can never remember – was removed entirely I think the story would barely notice, and the actor continues to look like he’s struggling to push out a giant turd while never looking anyone in the eye. Acting to other people’s chins isn’t something I enjoy watching. His co-stars in Dan Fogler, trying desperately for comedic value and falling utterly flat almost every time, Katherine Waterston as Scamander’s love-interest with whom he has zero screen chemistry, and Zoe Kravitz’ Leta Lestrange (as Scamander’s other potential love interest) all flail about against the film’s unrelenting incohesive structure, a structure in which we spend a fair amount of time with them off-screen, and the film never seems to be able to manifest a reason for the viewer to care. Johnny Depp’s titular Grindelwald commits far fewer “crimes” than the title suggests and as a villain he certainly looks appropriately dangerous, yet he’s ineffectual in that stupid way where he relies too heavily on other people to do the job instead of doing it himself in the first place. Ezra Miller reprises his role as the mysterious Credence, who spends the film wallowing in self-pity as he searches for his family – again, a subplot that lacks any emotional resonance whatsoever despite being crucial to the central plot of the film – while Claudia Kim is entirely wasted as Credence’s on-screen associate Nagini, best known to Potter fans as the snake Voldemort keeps in his employ later in the franchise.
About the only real shining light in this thing is Jude Law’s take on Albus Dumbledore, played in the Harry Potter franchise as an old wizard by both the late Richard Harris, and Michael Gambon. Law is terrific as the wizard, here seen in the prime of his life, still with frustratingly cryptic dialogue and a glint in his eye as if he’s playing three-dimensional chess and is about four moves ahead of everyone else. If Law had had a greater part in the overall film I think he might have had a chance to rescue it from ignominious boredom, but alas, the various puzzle-pieces moving across the screen here prevent him from doing so.
And this inert, choppy story really is the main problem with the film, to be honest. There’s a lot happening but not a lot going on, and it always feels as if you’re watching a forethought-out plot moving those chess pieces into position without trying to look as if that’s not exactly what’s happening. The film’s crescendo of revelation is more of a whimper, the cliffhanger conclusion leaving noone in surprise, and you sit there at the end wondering whether the whole effort was worth it. I mean, why are we telling this story? Other than franchise money, I mean. What is this adding to the Harry Potter mythos, other than several nod-nod-wink-wink hat tips to the earlier films, casual Easter Eggs and a bunch of listless, lifeless action sequences? The whole film is terribly generic Wizarding World nonsense, without the carefully built-up emotional heft of the main Potter films and nowhere near as satisfying. At least I’ll never need watch this again.