Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mouthful of a movie title, and it’s representative of the film’s biggest problem: it tries to do to way too much. Although Crimes is ultimately an enjoyable watch, it fails to capture the elusive magic of the original series and muddies the waters for the Potterverse going forward.
A sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Crimes opens with a flashy escape sequence. From there, the film gallops along at a breathtaking pace, barely stopping to take a breath over the course of more than two hours. Although the momentum keeps the film exciting, it trades depth and character exploration for glitzy action sequences.
Eddie Redmayne reprises his role as a charming Newt Scamander, newly returned to London after the events of the first movie. After having his travel license rejected by the Ministry of Magic, Newt is approached by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) who sends him to Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the powerful orphan boy who somehow survived the events of the first film. Also looking for Credence is Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a powerful dark wizard who wants to institute a new world order. Joining Scamander are old faces from the first film, including Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and Newt’s love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston).
The film introduces a host of new characters, including Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), his fiance Lita Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), and circus freak Nagini (Claudia Kim).
The sheer amount of characters in this film is staggering, to the point that it felt like watching an Avengers movie. Although the film acted as if viewers should know who all these people are, it provides only the sparsest of background for each of its new characters. Because of this glut of new characters, the film’s already limited time is stretched further, and characters that were important to the first movie like Tina and Jacob feel more tacked–on in this new film.
Even Newt, the supposed main character of this series, feels sidelined. Newt isn't a particularly flawed character—his only failing that he prefers to not take sides. It’s not spoilerific to say that by the film’s end Newt finds himself forced to choose, and it’s not an incredibly interesting arc for his character.
However, the direction in which the film takes some of its characters is incredibly compelling, most notably with Queenie, who makes a bold decision that still make sense for her character. However, that is only one of the main plot lines that occupy the movie’s run time, and most don’t land quite as well. Many plot lines feel truncated, as if significant parts of them were cut for the sake of time. And others fall flat because, again, the it’s hard to feel anything for the characters.
The movie also struggles in that most of its plot points revolve around references to the larger Harry Potter universe, most of which would go over the head of the general viewer. Although it makes sense that the filmmakers would want to tie the new film series to the original, they make those tie–ins central to the plot, which is a tenuous strategy.
Worse still, those references meddle with Rowling’s existing canonical timeline, particularly with the movie's end. Although the ending has interesting implications for the other three planned Fantastic Beast movies, it threatens to upend the existing well–thought out universe for the sake of cheap twist.
While Crimes is an enjoyable movie, it falls short of being a fantastic one. For fans of the franchise who only want to dip into the Wizarding World one more time it works perfectly well. But for those who want something more than just Harry Potter–branded action sequences, they would do well to look elsewhere.