In the movie titled after his own despicable actions, the dark wizard Grindelwald commits no truly evil action. In the franchise that’s supposed to deal with fantastic beasts, the beasts hardly see any screen time in the newest film of the Harry Potter universe, “The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
The film starts in 1927 with the attempted transfer of Grindelwald from maximum security prison in New York to Europe. Grindelwald escapes and the film follows Newt and friends as they galavant through London and Paris in search of Grindelwald and the obscurial, Credence. Fan-favorite characters are back including Jacob Kowalski and the Goldstein sisters. A few new characters appear in this installment as well with Jude Law as a younger Dumbledore and Zoё Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, Newt’s best friend from his school years at Hogwarts. Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, is given a more central role in the film.
Simply put, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a mess. While the animation and special effects are stunning, there is no central plot. Instead, “Crimes” consists of a web of plot lines, none that are obviously necessary to the film. Every film in the Harry Potter series has had a purpose, something the main characters had to accomplish come hell or high water. Crimes, however, has no explicit goal. Is the goal to defeat Grindelwald? Is it to kill Credence or save Credence? Is it to find Credence’s heritage? Beats me.
The first rule of filmmaking is: don’t waste the audience’s time. J.K. Rowling, however, doesn’t seem to have caught that memo. She spends valuable screen time — which could be spent developing the plot — on arbitrary segways that add little value to the film. The film explores Newt’s relationship with his brother’s fiancée, Leta Lestrange. Leta was in love with Newt while they were both at Hogwarts, or so I thought. According to Wikipedia, Newt was in love with Leta. Go figure. Rowling obviously wants the audience to care about the relationship, but, seeing as I can’t tell who actually had feelings for whom, I don’t.
“The Crimes of Grindelwald” isn’t all bad. A few stand-out performances hold the movie together. Jude Law’s young Dumbledore is a delight. Some scenes show Dumbledore teaching students Defense Against the Dark Arts. In the few short scenes, the viewer gets of a glimpse of just how powerful and wise Albus Dumbledore is, even in his younger years. The interactions between Dumbledore and his students, both past and present, add depth and interest to a character so familiar to Harry Potter fans.
Eddie Redmayne plays Newt’s adorable, awkward manner to a T. It’s completely believable and Redmayne carries the film. The bonds that Newt shares with his creatures adds a depth and charm to an otherwise stagnant script. A few favorites from the first movie are back in this installment including the thieving Niffler and mischievous Bowtruckle. Little time is spent on the actual creatures, however. There’s some interesting new creatures and incredible CGI, but none of the animals are really central to the plot. They’re the best part of the film but hardly see any screen time.
“The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a CGI trip from start to finish. It sure is beautiful but the film is unorganized. In the slightly paraphrased words of Cher in Clueless, “Crimes” is a “full-on Monet.” From far away it’s okay, but look a little closer and it’s quite the mess.