Director - David Yates
Cast - Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoe Kravitz, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler
Rating - 2/5
JK Rowling is headed the way of George Lucas. Keeping aside the many similarities of their Harry Potter and Star Wars series, both Lucas and now Rowling have displayed an annoying tendency to not let their creations be. It began with Lucas tinkering with the visual effects of his old Star Wars movies, and before you know it, he was altering mythologies and erasing the existence of entire characters. His reputation among fans - the same ones who once worshipped him - became so venomous that he was ‘forced’ to sell the Star Wars franchise to Disney.
With Rowling, the changing cultural climate has informed her poor decisions. Her Harry Potter books have a stunning lack of diversity - surely too off-brand for a writer as liberal-minded as Rowling. But in her panic to retroactively ‘correct’ her (in my opinion) perfect series of books, she has fallen into a trap of her own making, as if knocked out by a Confundus charm cast by Ron Weasley’s spello-taped wand.
She makes many unnecessary revelations in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and I suspect nearly all of them will be tremendously annoying to die-hard fans. Indeed, when the film pulled the final rabbit out of its hat - in basically its final scene - I let out a groan of disbelief and despair.
Virtually every character who is introduced by name in the film is the ancestor of someone from the Potter series, suggesting perhaps that the wizarding community might have an inbreeding issue. It also betrays a rather narcissistic and hesitant approach to writing this new story - Rowling seems to be so convinced of the greatness of her own world, and so terrified of messing it up, that she inadvertently makes pandering decisions.
Did you care if Albus Dumbledore was gay or straight? Probably not. But now that you know he is gay, do you want proof? Again, not really. But hang on, here’s a vague flashback anyway. You’re welcome. Aren’t I woke.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is the weakest entry in the Potter film series, which now falls under Rowling’s newly created umbrella corporation, the Wizarding World. And most of the blame can be directed towards Rowling’s script, thin as a piece of yellowing parchment, discarded in the bins of Flourish and Blotts.
An hour had passed and the plot was still yelling ‘Up!’ at its broomstick, which was rolling around feebly on the ground, simply refusing to take flight. Instead, several characters - old and new - had crossed each other’s paths, love stories I am willing to bet no one would be interested in had been introduced, and several lines of clunky exposition delivered. The finest example of this was when Newt’s brother, Theseus Scamander feels the need to remind his girlfriend, Leta Lestrange that “Your brother Corvus is dead.” Really? Her brother, you say? I wonder if she knew.
It feels terrible to say this - Rowling is a personal hero, and one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen, and Harry Potter has been tremendously influential on not just me, but millions of others. But The Crimes of Grindelwald takes barely five minutes to announce its mediocrity.
The signs begin to show in the first scene itself - a murky, nighttime escape staged by Gellert Grindelwald, the dark wizard played by Johnny Depp, who was captured at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie by the unlikely hero, Newt Scamander. It has none of the visual clarity of those similar aerial battle scenes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1. It’s incoherently edited, has too many inconsequential characters to keep up with, and ends with a switcheroo that feels like a cheat.
To say that Depp is by far the best thing about this film would be an understatement, but it is also a very uncomfortable realisation to have. The jury’s still out on whether or not he is guilty of committing the crimes that he has been accused of, but the least one can say about his performance here is that he earns the right to call himself the title character. His Grindelwald is unusually understated, despite his loud appearance. And even though the script does him no favours, he finds subtle ways to add subtext to very ordinary lines. His fight for what he perceives as freedom has an added emotional punch, considering the restrictions he has had to face in his past, particularly in matters of the heart.
Jude Law as the young Dumbledore, meanwhile, is basically playing Jude Law - with a mild Irish accent, perhaps to honour Michael Gambon’s very aggressive take on the future Hogwarts headmaster.
Speaking of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I counted precisely one good scene in the entire two-hour-thirteen-minute film, and even that was a gentleman’s six out of 10. It happens to be the one in which we return to Hogwarts, and suggests perhaps that director David Yates should confine himself to the school; that is where he is most comfortable.
You can sense him trying to bring some coherence to Rowling’s scattershot screenplay - there is no grace to how scenes transition in this film, and instead a needlessly provocative disregard for certain cinematic laws - but despite his trademark European visuals, and a dependably excellent score by James Newton Howard, he fails.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is at once dense with lore, yet strangely lean on plot. It can’t seem to make up its mind if wants to be a Fantastic Beasts sequel or a Harry Potter prequel. It is bogged down by too many minutes of inactivity, an almost criminal lack of action, and comes dangerously close to earning comparisons to the first Hobbit movie, based on how much time it wastes on pointless stuff. But perhaps Grindelwald said it best. It is, to steal his words, ‘not disposable, but of a different disposition.’