The Crimes Of Grindelwald is a weird rather than fantastic beast. The second chapter in J.K. Rowling’s five-part story, it’s a film stuffed with characters, big moments and impressive spectacle but still feels bizarrely underpowered. There are twists and revelations, but very few that alter the outcome of the film you are actually watching. Just like the first one, it still feels like set-up for bigger pay-offs down the line, without the satisfying cliff-hanger qualities of, say, The Empire Strikes Back.
The beginning is a lively affair, as Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), being shipped to Europe to stand trial, masterminds a thrilling escape from a flying stagecoach. Dumbledore (Jude Law) sends Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to Paris, where numerous interested parties are searching for orphan Credence Barebone (a dialled-down Ezra Miller) who survived the events of New York and holds the key to the wizarding world battle. Yet Rowling’s writing doesn’t imbue this hunt with any urgency — Newt is distracted by his search for love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston, wasted in another franchise after Alien: Covenant); even Grindelwald seems content just to let Credence come to him. Any potential dynamism is further blunted by emphasis on sub-plots (Dan Fogler’s Muggle Jacob chasing Alison Sudol’s pure-blood Queenie) and backstories such as a stretch devoted to new character Leta Lestrange’s (Zoë Kravitz) lineage. It’s the stuff that suits novels but dissipates the momentum of a movie.
The Crimes Of Grindelwald works harder than the previous tale to tie into the series history.
From the smallest detail (Leta Lestrange’s shoes) to the most expansive world-building (the French Ministry Of Magic), the craft on show is impressive. It’s matched by Rowling’s imagination peppering the story with charming invention such as a cheeky wind spell. Happily, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander anchors the madness better this time round, less tic-y and more engaged. Newt is less a diffident doofus here, more a man big-hearted enough to love any creature.
The Crimes Of Grindelwald works harder than the previous tale to tie into the series history. There’s mostly flash-backed returns to Hogwarts, Voldemort’s snake Nagini (Claudia Kim in human form) and the vaunted appearance of young Dumbledore, Jude Law bringing tweed and a twinkle to a more mischievous take on the professor. The question of Dumbledore’s sexuality is coyly suggested rather than heartily expressed — if it’s passed you by that Dumbledore is gay, you still might be none the wiser.
Elsewhere Rowling further sews modernity into the proceedings, from a family tree that neglects to give women their due to Grindelwald himself, his Trumpian fake news rhetoric normalising the most horrific ideas about No-Maj cleansing. Depp, bleached blond with shifting eye colouration, gives serviceable villain in only a handful of scenes, his master-plan building to a rally where you expect a sea of red MAKE MAGIC GREAT AGAIN caps. Instead, there is some spectacular CG sturm und drang. Just don’t expect to leave the meeting with any answers.