On Nov. 16, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald premiered in theaters worldwide. The movie is the sequel to the 2016 blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, both of which take place in the Harry Potter universe in the 1920s. J. K. Rowling herself wrote the screenplays, placing the films as prequels in the official canon of the original book and film series.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the previous movie in the franchise, is excellent. The main character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), has an enchanted case of magical creatures who escape in New York City while a destructive entity terrorizes the metropolis. The visual effects are stunning: the American wizarding community is vibrantly explored with nods to 1920s culture, including art deco architecture, a magical speakeasy hangout and a goblin mob boss. Newt Scamander’s magical case contains miniature ecosystems for each of the creatures he hosts: stormy deserts, wind-whipped savannahs, winsome peaks and florid jungles all make an appearance, as well as the animals that reside there. The four main characters are exceptionally well developed with distinct and likeable personalities. Their divergent motivations, whether they be catching a dangerous criminal or preserving the lives of magical creatures, unite in a warm camaraderie by the end of the film. The plot itself is particularly compelling, and the enthralled audience will fall in love with the wizarding world yet again before the screen goes dark. All in all, it is a sensational film and fans eagerly awaited the next installment.
However, the sequel The Crimes of Grindelwald is vastly disappointing, with none of the magic or wonder of its predecessor. The plot is incredibly contrived; the conflict itself is a mediocre lukewarm sludge of half-hearted cliches, irresolute characters, and lackluster plot devices likely scraped out of the writers’ break room microwave. The movie’s villain, Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp), is the second xenophobe cult wizard seen in the Harry Potter universe with few distinguishing features from his forebear. (Except, of course, that unlike Voldemort, this particular evil magician has a nose.) One of the best aspects of the first Fantastic Beasts movie are the dozens of newly introduced magical creatures, notably nifflers (small marsupials fond of plundering shiny valuables), bowtruckles (petite leafy creatures akin to stick bugs), and a thunderbird (a massive eagle able to create storms). However, for a movie in a franchise called “Fantastic Beasts”, Crimes of Grindelwald’s variety of fresh-minted creatures themselves is frustratingly meager. A few lovable critters return, but only one new beast had any plot significance, and none of the animals were portrayed with the same curiosity or care as in the first film.
Compelling characters are the greatest strength of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a trait that unfortunately does not carry into the next film. Crimes of Grindelwald stars iconic characters from the original Harry Potter series, such as a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). However, Dumbledore lacks his characteristic eccentricites and charm, leaving him a failing shell of a beloved character and a disappointment to enamored fans. Another Fantastic Beasts character, Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol), has an arc so atypical of her established personality that it leaves fans reeling in betrayal.
Newly introduced characters suffer from lack of development as well: one speaks about five lines throughout the whole film and the other has a backstory so convoluted it is absolutely impossible to follow. (Very unfortunate too, as her past is decisive aspect of the storyline.) A returning character endures an identity crisis throughout the film, ending in a nonsensical reveal of heritage that does not fit with established family trees or timelines of the original books.
In conclusion, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an unfulfilling addition to an excellent saga. Fans look hopefully to the next installation of the franchise to redeem fallen characters and tie up loose ends.