The latest foray into the magical wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is brought to us by J.K. Rowling. As the film’s screenwriter, it might be proof positive that she is indeed a muggle, and not a witch in disguise. It’s not the acting or the world-building, the beasts, or the special effects at fault for the confusing, oddly-paced muddle, filled with plot holes, inexplicable character choices, and dangling story elements. It’s entirely the fault of the script. When two superfans of all things Harry Potter find themselves bored, flummoxed, and apathetic to the story’s goings-on, it’s a very bad sign. Indeed, the best thing about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the parade of compelling red carpet looks Ezra Miller is serving. They rival the best or worst that Bjork ever concocted.
The story, without revealing anything, includes a younger Dumbledore, winningly played by Jude Law, and members of the Ministry of Magic attempting to work with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to rid the world of Grindelwald. Viewers can imagine him as Hannibal Lecter, if he were both a wizard and a charismatic speaker. Played by Johnny Depp, he sounds like a somber, sober Jack Sparrow. As demonstrated by the red carpet, somehow Ezra Miller’s character survived the last film, and Creedence figured prominently in the plot. Returning also are a number of other players from the last film, although they aren’t nearly as fleshed out or given much in the way of motivation for their choices.
There are charming and even engrossing moments that mostly center around the exquisite environments and production design. They are courtesy of Oscar winner Stuart Craig and his team. Craig has been part of the franchise since the first Harry Potter film. He knows how to not only be consistent, but expand upon and diversify the scenery and elements to keep the magical qualities fans of the franchise have grown to love. Scenes from the magical worlds of early 20th century Paris, New York, and London are eye popping indeed, as are the beasts old and new, who have quirks and qualities that will surely endear animal lovers. Unfortunately, his movie magic, and the FX wizardry of the many talented production artists that make the film so beautiful, are only part of the movie as a whole. They have to compensate for the film’s major flaws, as do the actors. Redmayne, Miller, Law, along with Zoe Kravitz, Katherine Waterston, and other returning and new cast members, all perform admirably, such as they can with the script and dialogue they are given. There’s no shortage of beautifully costumed performers onscreen.
The problems arise from the plot. If viewers start wondering what the heck is happening, or how the pieces fit together, or why a new story element is introduced only to be left hanging without resolution, they shouldn’t be surprised. They will likely find themselves losing connection to everyone but Newt, who is the only one given a solid arc. They also aren’t going to find explanations forthcoming for any confusing elements, even to the end credits.
Whether the reveals and major events that happen in the film will be enough to keep audiences coming back for the next installment is anyone’s guess. Fans of the world of Hogwarts, its history, characters, and myths have always been a loyal, yet critical bunch. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a visually beautiful misstep. Maybe Jo will surprise us with some magic with the next one. “Accio, better script!”
2 1/2 out 5 stars