Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment of J.K. Rowling’s latest pet project, was a tangled mess of plot lines and characters, much like its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
When I first heard about the Fantastic Beasts series, I was hoping for a tale of a quirky magizoologist traveling the world, caring for fantastical creatures as he grappled with the increasingly hostile world around him. Instead, I got a scattershot collection of confusing narratives when all I’d really wanted was a simple story focused on Newt Scamander.
Set in the 1920s, years before the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends, the series traces the beginnings of the First Wizarding War. Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is the main villain, who’s calling on witches and wizards to band together to dominate all those without magic.
The film begins with Grindelwald’s daring escape from captivity in New York. The scene might have been fun to watch if I could tell what was happening in it — the camera’s rapid movements are dizzying, turning what should have been an exciting battle scene into a headache.
From there, we travel to the Ministry of Magic, where Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) sits, a Bowtruckle playfully tugging at his jacket buttons.
In a film so crammed with characters that viewers have little chance to grow attached, Redmayne’s quietly charming performance stands out. Every time one of Scamander’s adorable creatures found its way to the screen, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I thought, a break from the chaos.
Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore is one of the other few bright spots in the film. He doesn’t quite have the clever whimsy I expected from the Hogwarts headmaster, but at one point he beckons Scamander from a London rooftop with an enchanted handless glove, and what could be more Dumbledore than that?
I wanted to like Fantastic Beasts. I really did. But these days, Rowling is making it so incredibly difficult to be a Harry Potter fan.
She made a big deal of the fact that Dumbledore was gay after she finished the Harry Potter books, but once again failed to actually show it on screen. All we get is a line from Dumbledore about how he and Grindelwald were “more than brothers.”
Rowling also stood by Johnny Depp after he was accused of domestic abuse in 2016, put her name on a poorly thought-out West End play and balked at her second chance to make the Wizarding World a welcoming and diverse place.
Newt, all of his friends from New York, Ministry of Magic officials (Newt’s brother and his former love interest among them), Credence (Ezra Miller) and Grindelwald’s gang eventually all converge on Paris. That’s where the jumbled disarray gets even more confusing.
It’s ridiculous how much they tried to jam into this movie. There’s a sickeningly cheesy romance between Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler), a circus and a visit to Hogwarts, too. Scenes whizzed from one group of characters to the next at a whiplash-inducing pace before I really start to care about any of them.
By the end of it, the two sides collide in a fire-filled battle at a Parisian cemetery. Somewhere along the way, we run into the likes of Nicolas Flamel and Nagini, who (surprise!) wasn’t a snake originally (are you kidding me?).
If you’re going to see the new Fantastic Beasts, I’d suggest bringing a notebook. Maybe then, you’ll be able to keep up with this new helter-skelter Harry Potter.