By Marc S. Sanders
The Wizarding World franchise of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts has suffered its first absolute failure, and much of it is owed to staple director David Yates, and more importantly JK Rowling.
I’ve been saying it for years. The wealthiest woman in the world possesses an incredible imagination, but it serves as an Achilles Heel because ALL of that creativity is thrown into her works along with the kitchen sink, the kitchen and 30 or 40 bedrooms. It’s much too much.
The Crimes Of Grindelwald is mired in overly long confusion. A week ago, I more or less praised the prior installment but I noted that it seemed as if 5 different stories were going on at once and none of them had anything to do with the other. The new film doesn’t just suffer from the ailment. Rather, it is slaughtered by it. It seemed like there were 50 stories going at once. None of them were very interesting. Everything seemed bland, and all of it was near indecipherable.
The lead is once again played by a charismatic, yet innocent looking Eddie Redmayne as beast caretaker Newt Scamander. Redmayne has the mannerisms down. He fits comfortably in the early 20th century England, the costume works well on him, but he speaks in gibberish it seems. As well, Rowling has written his role so as not to reveal everything he knows. He feels incomplete. In this film, he also feels irrelevant to anything that is going on. I couldn’t figure out his purpose. His random pet beasts’ appearances offer nothing to progress anything or anyone. They are helpless creatures. He is assigned early on in tracking down prison escapee Grindlewald, played with disappointing reservations by Johnny Depp and yet I don’t recall a showdown between them or an acknowledgement of each other.
Grindlewald is a disappointing character. He’s bent on making the magical world full of pure blood magic folk. That’s all we know ahead of his albino threatening appearance. Sure he’s got a past with a young Dumbledore (a well cast Jude Law), but hardly anything is written for Depp to play with. He’s flat. He doesn’t amp up the evil. This is Johnny Depp, formerly Jack Sparrow and a half dozen Tim Burton characters before???? He has few lines in a very long picture. He does not declare his cause really. His motivations are only explained in long drawn out scenes by some boring magic politicians. All talk in these scenes, no magic and thus very dull.
There’s an early prison escape for Grindelwald but thanks to David Yates and his team, it is very hard to follow who is disappearing and reappearing and how it’s all happening. Like the whole film, the cinematography is very dark (and this wasn’t even 3D). Everything is so dim in this film. It’s as if Yates was not confident in his spookiness he demanded all camera lamps be turned off while the dry ice machine is turned on. This is including in the daylight scenes. The editing of this opening scene is choppy at best. Visual effects are masked with dark blurs and loud sounds and music to heighten danger that just doesn’t feel very urgent.
The cast is way too large. My favorite character from the prior film, Stanley Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is given nothing to do and considering his memory of magic had been erased, his purpose for returning is poorly explained. This time, there’s nothing cute or charming written about Kowalski. You’d have the same film whether he was here or not. He serves no point and when he’s given material to fawn over Queenie (Alison Sudol) his love interest, and also pointless, it amounts to nothing. Katherine Waterston as Tina, Newt’s love interest American partner, as well serves no meaning. She’s there because she must be paired up with Newt.
So Rowling as before on other occasions brings back the four main characters from the first film and just gives them nothing to do. Rowling is notorious for side stories in her Harry Potter novels. Fans really love that it paints an ongoing landscape of this world. Here however, her original screenplay oversteps.
The Crimes Of Grindelwald is not funny or whimsical. Nothing is jaw dropping or fun for the whole family. (This is a franchise spawned from young adult novels??????) It all feels like edited junk from all the other films thrown into this one. There’s nothing new here in tricks or treats. Grindelwald ignites beautiful glowing blue fire at the end. So? We’d seen that already.
The film is obese on characters and side tracks. It is poorly filmed in foggy settings and gloomy skies, and the editing is a patchwork moldy blanket of irrelevance.
As you try to find the stitching between all the stories, you realize that you are working too damn hard. What I’d give for a little magic right now!