For a film about witches and wizards, there’s been precious little magic involved with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. First, it faced criticism for casting Johnny Depp — accused of assaulting ex-wife Amber Heard — as the titular villain. Then fans bristled at the news Albus Dumbledore wasn’t “explicitly” gay in the story. Add to that a sticky mess surrounding Nagini’s origin story and J.K. Rowling’s spin-off series finds itself in a pickle. Sadly, the movie itself is equally muddled.
Set amid the cobbled streets of 1920s Paris, the film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he attempts to take down Gellert Grindelwald (Depp). Billed as a sort of magical Dr. Dolittle, Newt enlists the help of his animal friends — some cute and cuddly, some less so — to fight against the muggle-hating baddie. There’s lots of action, a ton of slapstick and even a little romance. Eventually, it all climaxes in a breathtaking duel that makes Dumbledore vs. Voldemort look like child’s play.
Beautifully shot and wildly inventive, The Crimes of Grindelwald works harder than its predecessor to grow Rowling’s mythology. In fact, there’s so much new information to digest that even die-hard Potterheads will struggle to keep up. Newt’s brother is introduced, umpteen Ministry officials appear and Leta Lestrange’s family tree gets a 15-minute exposition session. We’re all for world-building J.K., but could you slow down a bit?
Of the new additions, Jude Law’s Dumbledore is the most pleasing. His calm exterior belies a man struggling with inner turmoil. After recruiting Newt to help fight against Grindelwald, Dumbledore wrestles with his feelings towards the fallen wizard. It’s yet another layer of complexity to an already intriguing character, which Law brings to the surface in a sparkling turn.
Script-wise, it’s clear Rowling needs help. The dialogue is clunky, some jokes fail and characters wave their magic wands (literally and metaphorically) to get in and out of situations. In some places, it feels like chunks of the movie are missing. In others, the scenes drag. Luckily, the sheer spectacle is enough to make the bloated run time (134 minutes) tolerable. For the most part, this is a fun and visually arresting blockbuster that will keep fans happy until the next one. As for everyone else? They won’t have a clue what’s going on…