The first Fantastic Beasts movie back in 2016 was no doubt a huge financial success. Not to mention the overall critical response was largely positive, even though I personally found the movie was decent at best.
In this second instalment, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald continues with dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who was captured at the end of the first movie, manages to break out of the prison and successfully made his escape to Paris. Upon hearing the news, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists the help of his former pupil Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does.
Just like the first movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is again written solely by J.K. Rowling. And apparently, she never learns her lesson. The plot still suffers from the same heavy-handed approach which plagued the first movie and this time, it even fares worse with lots of diversion and exposition dumps that drags the movie unnecessarily longer than it should.
Problem is, there are too many things going on that Rowling tries to cram here and there within its 134-minute running time. It might be a good idea if this was written as a novel but not so for a feature-length screenplay. Everything here feels convoluted and haphazardly written. It’s like as if Rowling’s idea of worldbuilding is adding as many plots, subplots and even counterplots as she can without actually building them into a coherent whole. As it turns out, I felt like I’m watching a bunch of busy fillers that are more interested in setting up a future sequel than spending time telling a self-contained story. Which is why by the time the payoff arrives, it feels disappointingly anticlimactic — a result that repeats the same mistake from the first movie.
The introduction of Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald as the movie’s main antagonist doesn’t help either. The thing is, never once his appearance feels genuinely threatening with Depp only made things worse with a flat performance. As for Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, he is largely sidelined as a passive-aggressive character who doesn’t get to do much in this movie. There’s a little sense of development or progression in his character other than relegating to the same old socially awkward magizoologist role, making him more like a cardboard cutout. The same goes for the rest of the recurring characters ranging from Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein and Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski to Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone and Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein — all relegated to sadly underwritten roles lost in a huge pile of storytelling mess.
David Yates’ direction is erratic and inconsistent as usual, which should be no surprise by now. But there are times he still impressed with his strong sense of visual flair and an eye for detail. The special effects are top-notch and so do almost every technical aspect from Stuart Craig’s elaborate production design to Colleen Atwood’s meticulous late-1920s costume design. Not to forget the appearances of recurring and new magical creatures are both rich and vividly realised on the big screen. The only exception here is cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s sometimes jarring use of extreme close-ups to convey the characters’ expressions.
Frankly, I was hoping that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald would have improved further than the first movie but turns out to be a step-down effort instead. This begins to make me wonder whether the remaining three movies in the future is a good idea after all.