2018 | DIR: DAVID YATES | STARRING: EDDIE REDMAYNE, JUDE LAW, JOHNNY DEPP, ZOE KRAVITZ, CARMEN EJOGO | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
I’d describe myself as a moderate Harry Potter fan, having grown up in the right decade to see/read everything and retain most details. From that perspective, I appreciate the sheer volume of content this team has produced relatively quickly, but on the other hand, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is the first time they’ve shown signs of fatigue.
While there are glimpses of what granted the previous titles their profound cultural impact, these are largely overwhelmed by a sense of going through the motions that I’d never quite experienced before. Perhaps the greatest advantage of making sequels is the ability to attract bigger stars through a history of success. The Harry Potter cast became increasingly star-studded over time, and similarly, THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD somehow manages to feature both Jude Law and Johnny Depp in supporting roles. These new additions are standouts and instantly prove why they’re household names; Law’s Albus Dumbledore is hardly naïve, but radiates a warmth and compassion recalling Rowling’s original vision of the character perfectly. Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Depp’s casting aside, his turn as the eponymous villain is probably his best performance in a decade.
Grindelwald couldn’t be further from the tic-riddled eccentrics Depp has played (almost) to the point of self-parody. Rather, his unnerving appearance transforms one of the most recognisable actors of this generation into a striking, powerful orator you genuinely believe would attract disciples. Indeed, any viewer wanting proof of just how good Depp is need look no further than Eddie Redmayne, whose Newt Scamander has been reduced to twitches and social awkwardness. Despite being pleasantly surprised by Redmayne in the first Fantastic Beasts film, here I found him distracting and off-putting to the level that it’s bizarre to recall he won an Oscar for Best Actor only three years ago.
However, in my opinion, the regression of Newt’s character is merely a symptom of the franchise fatigue I mentioned earlier. Rowling has already announced that the Fantastic Beasts series will span five films, with the huge amount of groundwork to be laid clearly diminishing the time allotted to ensure THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD could stand on its own. For instance, the script is often overly reliant on Harry Potter references (some of which will definitely alienate unfamiliar viewers), yet at times seems oblivious to the established canon; seriously, the ending is sure to piss off longtime fans. Likewise, it’s easy to take the editing and gorgeous visual effects for granted until they suddenly take a turn for the worse in the final scenes: a climactic sequence in which Parisis saved from Grindelwald’s dark magic is certainly colourful, but far too difficult to follow.
Overall, the film feels paradoxically rushed yet overstuffed, a mere obligation for those involved before they can move on to the next chapter. I can’t think of any groups as fickle as franchise fans. Rather than the miscalculated efforts of any one person, I suspect that THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD ultimately feels disappointing due to a collective desire to please audiences in the broadest possible sense; honestly, as a CGI-heavy blockbuster, it seems destined to at least be embraced at the box office. Yet while its predecessor was a momentous return to a beloved fantasy world, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking back on this film fondly by the time an inevitable sequel is released.