Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

J.K. Rowling has one of the most marketable names in the world; she could slap it on trash and sell a million copies. Fortunately, her books and films are never trash. This one is just a bit… unfocused.

Months after the capture of the infamous wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), Europe clamors to put him on trial for his crimes. The reluctant American Ministry of Magic turns him over for transport. But Grindelwald stages a dramatic escape. He and his new followers flee into the night. Meanwhile, in London, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has made another appeal to the Ministry to lift his international travel ban. But the Minister fears Newt is an agent of Albus Dumbledore, often sent on his bidding and refuses. He offers Newt a job instead.

Since Newt would rather die than sit behind a desk or track down dark wizards, he refuses. And it’s not long before Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tries to recruit him into finding Credence (Ezra Miller)—the young wizard presumed dead who imploded half of New York with his uncontrolled magic. Dumbledore believes him alive and searching for his parents in Paris. Newt wants no part in that either, until he learns Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is on the same mission. She has not spoken to him in months, and once he learns why, he decides to track her down. But not until after his friends Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Folger) turn up on his doorstep. Queenie wants to get married, but American magical laws forbid it.

Their pursuit of Credence leads them on a dangerous quest to find out the truth. It also forces all of them to make a choice… whether to stand with the Ministry, or fall for Grindelwald’s dogmatic reign of terror.

This film has a lot going for it. Fantastic costumes by Colleen Atwood. A great score. New magical creatures. Dramatic scenes. One of the most chilling scenes in the franchise. Epic battles between good and evil. And a horrific change of loyalty in one of its main characters. Rowling tackles deep topics such as cruelty, manipulation, abandonment, unjust laws, and ruling through fear. She gives her characters reasons for the choices they make. It’s just that there’s too many of them. The first half of the film bounces around between scenes and characters, not fleshing out any of its four subplots; it does connect them all at the end, but all the characters (apart from Newt and Grindelwald) have such little screen time, I did not feel for them when I should have. I kept thinking, “This is good,” and then, “This is a scattered mess,” followed by, “No, there’s a good story here.” It just had too much plot.

If you’re a Potter fan, there’s a lot of wonderful hints toward future stories; we get to meet a young Minvera McGonagall in a humorous cameo, we get flashbacks to students’ childhoods, including a precious one with Newt. We see baby nifflers (adorable) and meet new creatures. Strong parallels with Hitler and Nazi Germany are woven throughout, in both indirect and more direct references. In one of the more clever approaches I’ve seen, Rowling has Grindelwald use futuristic awareness of the impending second World War as a recruiting tactic. It sent a chill up my spine. I overall enjoyed it, and it left me with a lot to think about, but I hope her next screenplay has more focus and fewer lead characters.  

Sexual Content:
A bare-breasted statue (no nipples); a woman puts a love spell on a man to marry him against his will; a reference to a wizard using magic to seduce a woman (she dies birthing his child); a man says he was more than a brother to another man (obscure reference to his love for him).
Two uses of hell.
Lots of wizarding battles; spells careening off people, incinerating them in blue fire, spells battling over cities with mass destruction; a scene that implies a baby drowns; people killed off-screen with flashes of green flame (including an infant).

Magic. A magical orb shows scenes from the future.

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