After the Harry Potter series finished it’s run in 2011, you would have thought that we would have never seen another film set in that world. But 5 years later, we got the first in a prequel series written by series author JK Rowling herself, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was fairly successful, though it did not manage to gain the same acclaim that its predecessor series had. With the expansion of a simple story into a 5-film saga, Rowling and Co. clearly want to continue the franchise and make a prequel series on par with Harry Potter. However, this entry shows that this creative force’s reach has exceeded their grasp.
After his defeat, dark wizard Gellart Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being transferred to a Ministry of Magic’s prison, only to escape and plan on uniting his followers in a plot to give those with magical powers “freedom”. This prompts Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find former Hogwarts student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and recruit him to go up against Grindelwald in Paris and find Credence (Ezra Miller), who is looking for his lost family. Meanwhile, Newt must deal with his former friend Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Tina (Katherine Waterston) is attempting to track down Credence and Jacob (Dan Fogler) is trying to manage his relationship with Queenie (Alison Sudol).
The plot of this film is majorly convoluted, with plenty of different storylines fighting for attention and a heavy amount of exposition, all of which comes from J.K. Rowling’s inexperience at writing screenplays. But what is surprising is just how lifeless and uneventful it is. There is barely anything going on in the story, with little action or characterisation strong enough to keep you distracted. I was checking my watch, waiting for the film to pick up the pace and bring these storylines together, but it was only in the final 30 minutes that that happened. It is a shame because the plot has a compelling central theme of division between the protagonists, but the entire thing feels like filler because nothing of consequence takes place. No $200 million blockbuster should be so eventless.
The new/returning characters are also not put to good use this time. Newt has plenty to do but receives no real development and other characters like Tina, Jacob, Nagini (Claudia Kim) and even Dumbledore are underused. Leta, Queenie and Credence all get storylines that amount to nonsensical revelations and character choices. Every character feels useless and their storylines are not compelling at all. The cast are still decent, with newcomer Zoe Kravitz being surprisingly good as a tragic heroine. Jude Law as Dumbledore is perfectly fine, though he does not inhabit the role as well as Richard Harris or Michael Gambon did.
As for Johnny Depp and Grindelwald, the idea of a charismatic Hitler-like wizard figure is interesting, and Depp is admittedly not terrible. But he never comes across as a genuine threat, because he spends the entire film sitting around not doing anything villainous. Also, despite the relationship between his character and Dumbledore being of major importance, it gets lost in the shuffle and only exists to keep Dumbledore out of the story.
The only major praise I can give the direction is that David Yates does attempt to change up his style from previous entries. Other than that, the entire production is average and passionless. The cinematography is colourless and contains some odd shot choices, the editing is weak with some sequences that do not flow together and the film seems to think that throwing effects at the screen will make up for the lack of heart, action or enjoyment.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an empty and crushing disappointment. With all the problems considered as well as an overall feeling of sequel set-up and lore-building over proper storytelling, this film is a sign that this series either must wrap itself up quickly or end before it can get worse.