1 ½ (out of 4)
J. K. Rowling proved herself fantasy's biggest fraud once she reached the uninspired denouement of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (wow Harry is just like Jesus, amazing). Later her poorly received Broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a directly cinematic debut in the tolerably superficial Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them presented little evidence that the Wizarding World is as carefully thought through as fans want to believe. Regardless, Rowling's first screenplay was the inception of a prospective five-film franchise and Warner Brothers will scour and scrounge for every cent they can retrieve from the carcass of their most regularly profitable property.
In following up the phenomenon of her young adult heptalogy, Rowling has gone down a path trodden most famously by George Lucas: attempting to cement the touchstone of one's creative legacy with fruitless, inconsequential prequels. The history of wizards and witches has infinite potential for narrative pleasures but Rowling's new stories are pathetically written. Given how she's distorted Pottermania in order to sow the seeds for future, equally undesirable films, this is universe expansion at its worst. The Crimes of Grindelwald echoes the worst of the Star Wars franchise in more ways than one.
Though Rowling, just like Lucas, leans on both homage and her own basic mythos for support, she's reaching Disney-tier levels of spoonfed fan service. It's as if either her lack of palpable genius or studio interference demanded a certain number of callbacks and easter eggs to the recognizable elements of the very familiar world of Harry Potter (remember THE SORCERER'S STONE?!). The Force Awakens and Rogue One are just as shameless in this respect but where the SW comparisons paint the most proportionate picture is in how similar Grindelwald is to The Last Jedi. Both films are thorough failures rendered slightly noble by overindulgence for the sake of artistic investigation. The Crimes of Grindelwald is full of enterprising concepts but it's risky and daring in the exact same illogical and ideologically misplaced fashion that Episode VIII was last year. For all its moving parts, nothing is of particular importance and narrative momentum is a mere illusion. Rowling tries her hand at many conflicts, characters, jokes and action sequences, but they all feel reminiscent of better times in the Potterverse no matter how far she ventures from well-known areas.
Given how often you are tricked into thinking you're watching prime Potter, it's tempting to liken The Crimes of Grindelwald to a Disney product but only a prima donna like Rowling could reach Zach Snyder levels of dreariness. A film with the central premise of MAGIC should be fun but with a dozen characters to cycle through – Zoë Kravits, Erza Miller, Callum Turner, the list goes on – and three whole movies to set up, boredom sets in quickly. I enjoy how basic spells now require no exposition but those little efficiencies don't leave the plot any less bumbled. David Yates is in his sixth go round with the wand-waving stuff and all this entry adds up to is an extended trailer for the rest of the series.
Even our lead – Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander – feels swept up and confused for a side character. Like in the previous installment, Newt's relationship with Katherine Waterston's Tina Goldstein is the solitary point of emotional interest. Jude Law and Johnny Depp are both well chosen as youthful Dumbledore and Grindelwald respectively, and though they perform with dignity the overcrowded script simply doesn't afford them enough screen time. Instead we have 15 minutes outlining the Lestrange family tree and recycling racist themes from back in the Chris Columbus days.
The first Fantastic Beasts was properly self-contained other than that stupid final twist. It benefited from a level of lukewarm originality despite being inferior to even the campiest (Chamber of Secrets) or the most infuriatingly adapted (Order of the Phoenix) of the former film series. Grindlewald's gotcha ending is much worse than its predecessor and wastes a lot more time setting it up. Just like she developed a habit of climactic, emotional deaths from entries 4 through 6 of Harry Potter, Rowling presently confuses pointless character revelations with dramatic payoff.
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