Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald review

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a decent film full of wondrous moments and engaging characters. It’d be even better if it didn’t feel so much like a test of how much viewers retained from previous Harry Potter films.

One area the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise constantly fails is making the series accessible for new viewers. Granted, newcomers should expect a learning curve if they try to catch up from the sixth Harry Potter film. The trouble is when that creative mindset carries over to the second installment of the prequel series.

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You could watch the Star Wars prequel series without having watched the original trilogy. Sure, you’d miss some of the foreshadowing and references, but the story could stand on its own. While it’s hardly advisable, but viewers could make sense of what’s happened before and follow along just fine with Avengers: Infinity War.

The Crimes of Grindelwald demands an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Harry Potter to fully appreciate. That doesn’t just mean the eight Harry Potter films and the first Fantastic Beasts, but also the books.

Creator/screenwriter J.K. Rowling writes for the longtime hardcore fans who will giggle or beam with delight as she connects plot threads mentioned in the books. Problem is for viewers who have got their franchise fix solely from the movies, it’s like getting half the story.

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Any good movie based on a book needs to be able to stand alone from the source material and tell a comprehensive story. By that basic standard, it’s hard not to view The Crimes of Grindelwald as a failure.

Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is preparing to rally troops to his cause, but his key recruit is Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, Justice League), the immensely powerful wizard who could turn the tide. Credence is completely unaware of his role in the imminent battle of good and evil. Along with the help of his friend, Nagini (Claudia Kim, Avengers: Age of Ultron), he’s simply trying to track down his birth family.


Recognizing the threat of a Grindelwald/Credence alliance, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) sends one of his top former students on the case. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything) is still caring for new fantastic beasts and hardly seems like a pivotal player in this brewing war. In the final act especially, Newt is a non-factor and mostly just serving as a spectator.

Still, Redmayne makes Newt an immensely likable lead. Newt teams back up with Jacob (Dan Fogler, The Walking Dead), and the Goldstein sisters Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina (Katherine Waterston). Waterston and Redmayne make for a fun pairing and have excellent chemistry as two socially awkward people crushing on each other. At times, I wish the film was more along the lines of Newt playing Pokemon and catching beasts. At least in those scenarios, he’s taking an active role in the events.

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It’s in those moments that Director David Yates seems to have the most fun. There’s a liveliness and energy to those scenes that’s lacking in some of the more grandiose moments like Grindelwald’s big escape.

Yates seems to have trouble balancing the tone as Rowling’s script bounces from fun, cutesy moments to darker scenes throughout. In the final act, Yates doesn’t have to do the juggling act, which definitely makes the payoff of the Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) subplot land with maximum effectiveness.

Given the title, Grindelwald is an underwhelming villain and hardly makes any noteworthy crimes. Depp plays his usual eccentric slightly tripped out character, but I still found myself wishing Colin Farrell had just retained the role. Farrell brought more mystery and a greater sense of menace to Grindelwald.

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Another frustration is Crimes of Grindelwald ends just as the story starts to finally gain some steam. It kind of feels less like a cliffhanger and more like Empire Strikes Back ending just as Luke Skywalker arrives in Bespin. We get the teases that something cool is on the way, but we don’t get to see any of that before the credits roll.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is essentially an extended trailer for the next film. It doesn’t do a great job explaining the stakes and point of this series beyond milking the fanbase for another set of movies.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures