FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (2018, PG-13, 134 minutes, HEYDAY FILMS/WARNER BROTHERS)
I hate to admit it, but there came upon me a moment when watching this sequel to 2016’s FANTASTIC BEASTS in which I hoped Johnny Depp would look directly into the camera and break into his Captain Jack Sparrow routine.
Granted, there are a few moments when that slightly rolling voice comes through, as though he’s egging you on a bit. Like at any moment he could cry out “mun-key!” in fear and a slightly drunken repose. But he doesn’t. Which kinda sucked.
CRIMES follows the basic Hollywood sequel setup, in that it adheres to the formula set forth by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; secrets are revealed, some questions are answered, and the bad guys have a field day. Seeing the fugitive wizard Grindelwald (Depp) in action can be quite the nefarious spectacle. His power is obvious, his intentions are honestly blunt, and his ideology is skewed yet rational in a sympathetic kind of way. He wants all pure-blood witches and wizards to rule the world, and he nearly has the means to do so. Those means involve winning Credence (Ezra Miller) over to his side. Where Grindelwald is stalwart in his resolution, Credence is coming into his own. He still shies away from human interaction, but his conflicted emotions have evolved into a quest for identity—one which, sadly, is not explored quite enough here. Neither is that of Nagini (Claudia Kim), who eventually grows up to be a really evil snake. In fact, there are several characters here that need more fleshing out, and more time to simmer. You get the distinct impression that there is a longer, more character-friendly film here somewhere.
It is certainly possible that they will all evolve more over time; this is, after all, only the second in a planned five-film story. But there are a whole lotta people on display here, and it seems an injustice to not let these characters develop more naturally.
My other gripe lies with either J.K. Rowling’s script or Mark Day’s editing; there are jumps in the storyline that are wholly out of place for a film set in the “Wizarding World” universe. Scenes cut to other characters suddenly further along than you last saw them, which goes against the typical storytelling of these films. It is especially bothersome when it concerns characters we care about. Speaking of which, the early standout for me in this film was, once again, Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski. His humor and presence show an almost uncanny depth, making him the most relatable character in the movie—well, for part of it, anyways. Eddie Redmayne is just as effective as he was the first time around, and this time he is allowed to better plumb the depths of his social anxieties and self-doubts. Newt Scamander really is one of the most complex characters writer J.K. Rowling has ever created, and I’m including Severus Snape in that mix (Slytherin forever, beotches!).
And please don’t think that I hated this sequel; on the contrary, it was enjoyable. Some of the effects are stunning, and the set detail was delightful. The graveyard was especially effective as a mood setter, although that was also one of the parts which felt a bit rushed. Phillipe Rousselot’s cinematography is wonderful, in that he sets up some shots that linger in your head well into the next scene. Some of his work may seem unconventional for a Wizarding World film, but it is a great visual tool in director David Yates’ arsenal.
There are other things which bothered me (and some things about the story that I loved), but to divulge them goes against my “No Spoilers! Rule”. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know what the film is about. And no, it isn’t about Jack Sparrow getting the Black Pearl back. No matter how badly you want that sly wink and a “mun-key!”.
Film Grade: B-