“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” promises a lot but does not deliver much in the end. So occupied with introducing new characters and establishing the ground for the next film of its franchise, the movie often lags and trudges without generating any substantial amount of awe and wonder for us, and the result is the worst film coming from the fantasy world of J.K. Rowling.
The movie opens with the dark, thrilling sequence showing the escape of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a criminal wizard who was captured at the end of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016) thanks to the efforts of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and several other main characters in that film. After his successful escape from the American Ministry of Magic in New York City, Grindelwald goes to Paris and gathers a bunch of wizards willing to serve him, and then he embarks on his evil plan which will affect not only the world of wizards but also the world of non-magic people, who, as many of you know, are called ‘Muggles’ in Britain and ‘No-Majs’ in US.
Meanwhile, Scamander has been trying to be allowed to travel outside Britain, but, despite some help from his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), he only gets his request rejected because he is reluctant to work as an Auror for the British Ministry of Magic as demanded. As your typical nerdy guy, he is only interested in studying and taking care of those fantastic beasts ranging from a small kleptomaniac mole to a huge beast looking a lot like a bundle of sea kelps, and he does not want to get himself into a serious situation again even though he knows how things get quite serious again due to Grindelwald’s escape.
Anyway, he soon finds himself approached by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who is not only a prominent professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry but also one of the most powerful wizards in the British Wizarding Community. Due to some personal reason revealed around the end of the movie, Dumbledore cannot confront Grindelwald for himself, so he requests Scamander to go to Paris for stopping whatever Grindelwald is planning to do. Again, Scamander becomes reluctant to make a choice, but, of course, he comes to follow Dumbledore’s instruction because he cannot ignore what should done.
Shortly before coming to Paris, Scamander is visited by his muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Jacob’s witch lover Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). Jacob got his memories erased at the end of the previous film, but Queenie subsequently restored his memories because she still loves him even though her relationship with him is strictly forbidden by the law of her world, and that leads to a personal conflict between her and Kowalski, who certainly loves Queenie but does not want her to get punished for their love.
Through Queenie, Scamander comes to learn that Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterson), who is an Auror of the American Ministry of Magic and worked along with Scamander for capturing Grindelwald in the previous film, went to Paris for finding Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who managed to survive despite what happened to him during the climactic part of the previous film. Not long after arriving in Paris, Scamander comes to meet Tina, and the mood becomes a bit awkward mainly because there is still some feeling between them even though they did not correspond with each other much since their adventure in New York City.
In the meantime, the movie continues to present more main characters. They are Nagini (Claudia Kim), a young Asian woman who happens to accompany Credence after their escape from a circus and freak show; Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a shady wizard who has been tracking down Credence for a desperate reason; and Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), who is Theseus’ fiancée and turns out to have a personal secret to be revealed later in the movie.
As juggling all the numerous main characters in its story, Rowling’s screenplay frequently shows deficiency in terms of story and characters. The story itself is no more than a bloated teaser for the next film to come, and the characters are not very engaging due to thin characterization. Despite Eddie Redmayne’s boyish charm and earnest effort, Scamander is not a particularly interesting hero to watch, and many other characters surrounding him are more or less than plot elements to be moved along the narrative. As a consequence, the other notable performers in the film including Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp are seriously under-utilized on the whole, though Depp manages to have a few juicy moments as imbuing his character with enough menace and malevolence.
Anyway, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, which is directed by David Yates, is not totally devoid of awe and wonder, and there are a few genuinely good moments to be appreciated. While I enjoyed watching several new fantastic beasts presented in the movie, I liked its fantasy background which is mixed well with some nice period details, and I was also amused a bit by the certain aspect of the past relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Although these good moments do not prevent the movie much from being a major letdown even compared to the previous film, they show that there is still some potential left in the franchise, and I can only hope that there will be enough improvement in whatever will come next.