Let’s get this out of the way. David Yates was never the the best director the Harry Potter series had. His direction always managed to miss the character beats, the comedic timing, and many other things. His directing style works in movies that are naturally slower in pace (yes, like in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I), but Yates enjoys drawing out the story, which only serves to prolong the inevitable. When you apply his style to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, paired with the screenplay by J.K. Rowling, the outcome is dull, with messy plotting, halfway there character development, and the underdevelopment of everything that should flow better in a world that has already been established.
The film picks up a few months following the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Grindelwald (now sadly played by abuser Johnny Depp instead of Colin Farrell) has escaped Auror custody while being transferred from New York to London and he’s still intent on breaking up the peace between Wizards and Muggles. There are still purebloods who believe themselves to be superior and wish to reign supreme (because this sentiment of Nazism clearly never dies, alas) and he intends to bring together his followers in order to spread the word.
Beyond this plan, the rest of the film’s plot is messy. There’s something having to do with the Ministry of Magic seeking Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) help in the defeat of Grindelwald, only for him to decline (they have a blood pact to never fight each other). He entrusts Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to go to Paris and find Credence (Ezra Miller). While there, he ends up crossing paths with Yusuf (William Naydlam), a man hellbent on finding Credence for his own personal reasons.
Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange, who is a particular standout in a sea of mediocrity, is involved in the plot in many ways. There are the implications of a past relationship with Newt, she’s currently engaged to his brother, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), she was hated by many during her school days, and she has a secret she’s held onto for many, many years. Interesting as her character is, J.K. Rowling steps into territory she isn’t equipped to handle and attempts to tackle race within the wizarding world without really acknowledging the multiple implications she introduces.
Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t really about said crimes so much as it is a mashup of a bunch of things, most of which don’t fit or work together organically. There’s a lot going on and some of it is either confusing, not given enough time to develop, or just setup for the three remaining movies. It doesn’t work as a standalone film and is boring, the plot pointlessly dragged out, and the characters not strong enough to hold all the pieces together. If you’re looking for some leftover wizarding magic from the Harry Potter series, you won’t find it in this film.
At this point, I question why Katherine Waterston’s Tina is even in the film. Her character is heavily underutilized, doesn’t have much to do, nor does she have a perspective or a semblance of a plot in this film. There’s frankly no ambition for either her or Queenie (Alison Sudol). Queenie wants to marry Jacob, but is quick to enchant him so that she gets her way without his consent (a problem the movie never really bothers to acknowledge), and even quicker to see things from Grindelwald’s perspective. She claims Grindelwald will help her and Jacob, but on what planet would a guy who views purebloods as superior want to help a Witch marry a Muggle? It’s absurd that she even thinks Grindelwald will provide any support and yet she listens to him anyway. Tina is an Auror and seems to like her job, but besides that there’s no drive to her actions.
Eddie Redmayne’s Newt remains awkwardly sweet, but lacks the charm required for his character. He also lacks chemistry with his costar, even when he’s trying to bring romance to the scene. Redmayne is meant to carry the film, but there’s nothing about him that draws you in or makes you want to see more of what makes him tick. He’s more of a side character in a story meant to center him, but the film is intent on replicating the same kind of relationship Harry had with Dumbledore, only they’ve replaced Harry with Newt. Dumbledore’s entrusted him with important things, but as a character, Newt isn’t central to anything that’s happening and is more along for the ride than anything else.
The rest of the cast doesn’t get much to do either. Jacob (Dan Fogler) is once again comedic relief (though he’s better at it than everyone else), Credence broods a lot, and Nagini (Claudia Kim) isn’t at all a villain like many were worried she’d be, but she only has about two or three lines and it’s not clear exactly why she’s so intent on remaining by Credence’s side. It’s a wasted opportunity to showcase all of these characters, but there’s so much going on and too much time is spent on a very messy plot.
Grindelwald never feels threatening, never feels concrete enough to be anything but a good idea on paper. In fact, he’s introduced far too early for a series that’s supposed to have five films in it and therefore his menace is lost amid poor acting choices and bad setup. There’s also no real world-building. For all that the prequel should already be a world well lived in, The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t feel as familiar as it should, nor is it developed enough despite all of the Harry Potter films doing most of the legwork. J.K. Rowling sends us to New York City, then Paris, but it’s clear she’s most comfortable in England and this perspective is limiting given her want to expand the wizarding world. The New York characters are practically irrelevant to the story at this point after the film sets its sights on Europe.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t enchant and never comes together. It might work as setup for the future movies, but that’s heavily reliant on whether the rest of the movies will give us answers rather than taking us on a magic-less journey. Yates still hasn’t managed a balance between pacing and building upon tension and it’s really noticeable here. Likewise, Rowling seems to want to grow the wizarding world, but ends up repeating some of her old character and story beats. The film is ultimately forgettable and so boring that it isn’t worth the time or energy.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is dull, with messy plotting, halfway there character development, and the underdevelopment of everything that should flow better in a world that has already been established.