In 2016, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released. While not as good as most of the eight Harry Potter films, the prequel scratched an itch for more of author J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Audiences may be getting more than they bargained for with four planned sequels, the first of which is The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Revealed to be a pale Johnny Depp with weird eyes and bleached hair, Gellert Grindelwald was Voldemort before, well, Voldemort. Grindelwald was mentioned in the Potter books, but very little of him was seen. Crimes puts the villain front and center as he tries to convert wizards and witches to his cause of ruling the non-magical world.
Once again, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited into action by Albus Dumbledore (or Dumbledamn, as some have termed the character since Jude Law plays him) to find Credence (Ezra Miller), the Obscurial thought to have died at the end of Fantastic Beasts. Once again, Newt needs to find Credence before Grindelwald. There’s so much more story going on including Newt’s brother, his childhood sweetheart, his current sweetheart, her sister, and lots of other characters old and new, but it’d take the entire review listing everything out.
Take a look at all the characters in this banner. All of them have their own backstories, motivations, etc. It’s a lot to take in.
Suffice to say, while Rowling (who wrote the screenplays for Fantastic Beasts and Grindelwald) introduces oodles of plot threads, none of them are tied up or pay off. They’re all merely introduced, waiting to be concluded in a future entry. Grindelwald would’ve been a much stronger film if it focused on telling its own story first and the bigger picture second, but that seems like something Rowling might’ve forgotten with the Fantastic Beasts series.
One of the things that made the Potter films so good was that each entry told a story that could stand on its own. It helped to know what came before, but it wasn’t a pre-requisite. Sure, each book/movie built up the bigger story piece by piece, but it wasn’t the main goal. Except for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That one is basically nothing but set-up for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An outsider to the Potter-verse could watch Goblet of Fire or Chamber of Secrets without having seen anything else and be fine. The Fantastic Beasts series, to date, hasn’t been so lucky. Especially Grindelwald. The film really is the Half-Blood Prince to the upcoming Beasts films, in that all it does is set up future entries. Viewed outside of the series, a person would go wonky trying to figure out what was going on plot-wise. Instead of a standalone film, Grindelwald feels like the second chapter in a five-chapter story. Without seeing the big picture, it just doesn’t totally work.
Despite the controversy over his casting, Depp makes for a fine Grindelwald, who’s seductive words are nicely juxtaposed against his intimidating appearance. Despite the wizard’s pale skin and strange eyes – one of which is menacing to the point of distracting – Rowling has written the villain in such a way that it’s easy to see how someone who looks so much like a villain can in people over to his cause. There Voldemort used force and intimidation to build his army, Grindelwald may be even more dangerous. He can talk someone into choosing to join him, a much scarier proposition.
Oscar winner Redmayne is always charming as Newt, who sadly gets pushed to the background so new characters can have the spotlight. Newt and his kind demeanor carried Fantastic Beasts, and its sorely missed among all the plot threads in Grindelwald.
The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t vintage Harry Potter. It has some great visuals and good action, but the film is tasked with carrying the load of three upcoming sequels, and the weight is too much for one film, especially one that isn’t three hours long. Grindelwald is fine for what it is and will probably age well as the other Fantastic Beasts films are released, but with nothing else to go on, it’s an enjoyable enough film for Potter fans, but everyone else will probably be bored.