Directed by: David Yates
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz
Runtime: 134 min
At the end of the first film, the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his real agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings.
In an effort to thwart Grindelwald's plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt, who's unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.
First of all, if you wish to know what I think about the first installment of this saga, you can read my spoiler-free review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by clicking its title. I apologize in advance for any writing errors I might have performed at the time. Regarding its sequel, well ... I'm not going to sugarcoat it: I didn't enjoy it. Like, at all.
I don't read books, let alone the ones that have cinematic adaptations turned into big franchises. I know the statement "books don't matter" is overused, but considering we are discussing a movie, they truly don't. I don't care about the story that the book tells. Any book-to-film adaptation must stand on its own, it should never be compared to the other because these are two completely different methods of storytelling.
I'm bringing this subject to my review because J.K. Rowling, contrary to her position in the Harry Potter movies (she was one of the producers of the last four films), decided to really get herself into the Fantastic Beasts prequels, by becoming the sole screenwriter for these installments. Trusting what other people say about her books, she is a brilliant "book writer," but unfortunately, she can't hide her flaws as a "film writer."
Screenwriters' number one struggle is the method through which they try to avoid unnecessary or heavy exposition scenes. It's just not reasonable to have a character literally explain (a.k.a. expose) what's going on, especially when there's so much information to transmit. In addition to this, most of these moments usually don't make sense because the characters already know everything and it ultimately feels like no one had the creativity or imagination to tell the audience what they need to know in a less boring and lazy way.
Crimes of Grindelwald tremendously suffers from this storytelling issue. For such a long movie, its story overextends the wizarding world by adding knowledge that no one cares about or didn't even asked for to begin with. From creating new characters that break the previous saga's continuity to jaw-dropping plot conveniences, Rowling really messed this one up.
Until the last 20 minutes, there are only a couple of moments worth watching. If those final minutes were deleted, we could basically skip this film, and we would enter the third one with 99% of the required awareness to watch it. From the moment the main plot becomes clear, its story becomes confusing with so many irrelevant subplots and backstories, eventually breaking its pacing and turning it too slow.
It's clear that the movie is building up to what would be an incredibly strong ending, but it conclusively disappoints when more than half of it is pure exposition with a ton of plot devices. So much backstory is given in those last few minutes that I had to process the whole thing in the way back home. Not only the new "data" is confusing, but it carries so much plot convenience that it becomes hard to understand why Rowling decided to mess with the Harry Potter story.
The one thing I loved about Fantastic Beasts' first installment was that it tried to separate itself from the Harry Potter films. It felt like a new world with new concepts, rules, creatures, and spells. It didn't try to connect with the other saga. Instead, it spent its time building up new characters with no relation whatsoever to the ones we know and love from Hogwarts. However, in this second movie, Rowling decided to make it all about "connecting sagas," like they keep saying to the press.
The main issue here is that not only it tries to connect them, but it modifies the original one. It messes with its continuity by playing with old characters' family members, and it inevitably becomes one hell of a mess. Regarding the action (magic) scenes, not only are they sparse but they lack the quality that became a trademark of the franchise. The opening sequence is so choppily edited and with so horrible lighting that I barely saw a thing.
With such a flawed screenplay and questionable (to say the least) character's scripts, there are some good points here and there. Those last minutes that I mentioned above are, indeed, captivating and entertaining, delivering a good ending even if it feels better than what it actually is due to the rest of the film. Visually, the magic in display is beautiful to look at even if the editing team didn't follow the VFX crew's quality standard. James Newton Howard does an exceptional job with the score, and the settings are amazing. Production-wise, it pretty much accomplished what I expected it to achieve.
In the end, the heroes are the actors and actresses who are able to deliver so many fantastic interactions. Eddie Redmayne continues to be an excellent lead as Newt, Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein) delivers a strong performance, and Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski) keeps his comedic role on-point. Johnny Depp is a great actor, and he elevates Grindelwald through his unique style of acting (don't pay attention to reviews where Depp is being crucified from the get-go by critics who don't like him as a person or by its personal life which has nothing to do with any movie he stars in), Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone) is definitely going to steal the show in the next films and Zoë Kravitz is another strong female presence as she shines as Leta Lestrange.
I'm leaving Jude Law (Albus Dumbledore) and Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein) to last for bad reasons. Law is a phenomenal actor, but his character is profoundly underused, and I can't help to feel extremely disappointed with so little Dumbledore. It genuinely feels like they lied to everyone since they used him as an impactful bait for the film. You know how I hate false advertising, so shame on you Warner Bros. Pictures. Regarding Alison, I don't know if it's because of her acting or due to Queenie's script, but she is uncommonly annoying. Not sure about this, but I do think she has more screentime than Dumbledore... I'll leave it at this.
All in all, Crimes of Grindelwald is a big letdown for any fan of the franchise. If not for its remarkable cast and its entertaining third act, this could dangerously be a contender for my Bottom10 of 2018. J.K. Rowling proves that she does not have what it takes to become a screenwriter, by constantly relying on unnecessary and heavy exposition scenes with no creativity whatsoever. She overextends her own wizarding world and even breaks the original saga's continuity with so much "data upload". Boring and magic-less, slow and uninteresting, confusing and insignificant. If you want, you can skip to the last 20 minutes, and you won't miss a thing. Disappointing.