Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald directed by David Yates, Warner Bros, 2018 

Reviewed by Matt Barber

Ponderous, overloaded, self-indulgent, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald takes all the narrative complexity of the later Harry Potter novels and dumps it on screen with little regard for the ‘show-not-tell’ convention of cinema. For all this – I enjoyed it. The complexity did threaten to disengage the casual viewer, but it also managed to give the film a baroque texture that was supported by the intricate CGI-d Paris and the well characterised animals. There is a sense that J. K. Rowling has now moved fully into her Dickens phase – expressing her progressive political views and her dissatisfaction with the current world through the lens of her fictional universe. With this in mind, The Crimes of Grindelwald can be seen as a work of Gothic excess – a tangled but atmospheric shaggy dog story jammed between the introductory first film and a conclusion somewhere in the future. The good thing is that the film knows this – threads from the first film are resolved or complicated whilst the presumed climax of the series of films – a hidden Wizard version of the Second World War being fought beneath the real one – is anticipated in a genuinely moving vision in the film’s closing scenes. Through all this, the wider details of Rowling’s universe bleed in, not always clearly but in such a sincere and serious way that there is weight to the revelations. The scenes set at Hogwarts only serve to compound this feeling that Rowling is taking this opportunity to explore the world she has created beyond the parochial confines of the school.

The performances throughout, even the usually hyperbolic Depp and the antagonist Grindelwald, are well pitched – flipping between comic and deadly serious without jarring. Eddie Redmayne and Jude Law are the stand outs here – the former as the aspergeric hero at lost in the human world but quietly on control, the later as the charismatic but distant Dumbledore – a figure we will presumably see become more and more involved in the series. Rowling knows what to do with her characters as well – she understands how their actions arise from conflict emotions and also, impressively, understands the attraction (and corruption) of Grindelwald’s views. The most effecting character moments in the film are when minor figures such as the ditsy comic-relief Queenie Goldstein (who ultimately sides with the pure-blood nationalists) take on significance.

It’s a film that walks a tightrope between exciting and boring the audience, but, for me, just about kept me engaged and, in the end, allowed me to appreciate the complexity rather than become frustrated by it.