Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review: A not-so-fantastic expository sequel
The sequel to the 2016 Newt Scamander origins story suffers from a condition best described as "What to do with the middle movies?"
There is a prophecy. There is an all-powerful dark wizard. His most powerful adversary is a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who will go on to become the greatest headmaster of Hogwarts. The teacher deputes his students to do his bidding in the war for the 'greater good'. And then, there is the boy who lived. Sound familiar? That's basically the story of this film.
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller
The first part of Fantastic Beasts was a worthwhile exercise that piqued interest with every passing minute. The payoff in the last few scenes alone was worth the ticket price.
However, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to the 2016 Newt Scamander origins story suffers from a condition best described as 'What to do with the middle movies?'
Fantastic Beasts has already been conceived as a five-part series. And director David Yates and JK Rowling, who gets screenplay credits, deliver an underwhelming film that only does the functionary service of setting up the sequels.
While the foreshadowing, or as we locally call it, build-up, is perfectly crafted, there is a sense of having been left high and dry after investing the time to watch this 133-minute film, which doesn't have much else.
The Crimes of Grindelwald begins six months after the events of the first film. A pale-looking Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, delivering a measured, yet chilling performance) is part of a prison-shifting exercise, and we all know what will happen next. The aerial stunt sequence that follows is pure technical wizardry coupled with expert choreography that puts us in a tizzy and gets our adrenaline pumping. And by the time Grindelwald is free to unleash his machinations to rule both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds, we are caught hook, line and sinker.
However, after that, The Crimes of Grindelwald only just avoids being a colossal disappointment. And this largely thanks to the performances of the lead actors, the visual brilliance, and our familiarity with Rowling's universe.
Eddie Redmayne returns as the socially-awkward Newt Scamander, and so do his motley group of friends, Jacob (Dan Fogler), Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). But they have very little to do in this film that only aims to let us know that a young-ish Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) has some unresolved tension with Grindelwald.
There is a nice throwaway line about the homoerotic undertones between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, which would have remained obscure if JK Rowling wasn't on Twitter dropping clues about character backstories to suit whatever is the current trend of 'wokeness' on social media.
Jude Law is a delight and his scenes with a permanently-confounded Newt makes us realise how easy it was for Dumbledore to make students do his bidding. If Grindelwald is a silver-haired, silver-tongued person, whose subtle-yet-inflammatory speeches remind you of a certain someone from the real world, Dumbledore is just his reflection, albeit from the other side of the inclusivity spectrum.
Somewhere in between all this, there is Credence (Ezra Miller) searching for his origins, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Nagini (Claudia Kim) finding their bearings in the world that despises those who are different, and Newt himself, who feels out of place considering the lack of fantastic beasts for him to find. Aside from the old pesky little nifflers, and of course, Pickett, the Bowtruckle, there are only two new beasts: Kelpie, an underwater sea-weed horse, and Zouwu, a Chinese-origin gigantic elephant-sized cat. And this prevents Newt from being his usual non-chirpy, non-flamboyant, awkward but adorable self. It almost makes you question what he is doing in this particular film.
I wonder if The Crimes of Grindelwald ought to be assessed as a standalone film. Should we be less critical of such films because they are just building blocks? I might say yes, but would I have done so if not for being a borderline Potterhead myself? I'm not so sure.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is set in 1927 and the final war between Grindelwald and Dumbledore will happen in 1945. We have 18 more years, and three more films, and innumerable characters and plot points for the filmmakers to tell a fascinating story and redeem themselves. Otherwise, like a war that goes on for too long, the time is not far when allies surrender, and supporters get disillusioned with the magical world that was first created by JK Rowling in a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.