Harry Potter, the series that was first published in 1997 and adapted to film soon after, quickly became an unprecedented phenomenon, spread quickly to hundreds of millions of readers around the world. To its most avid fans, the characters are like dear old friends, citizens of both their own magic world and of the enchanting memories of our own childhoods. With this level of cultural saturation, the task of following up the wizarding world’s beloved story in a way seems difficult, if not impossible.
And yet this is the task that 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them attempted to undertake, to moderate success. Taking place in 1920s New York, it featured Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander on a journey to rescue his escaped magical creatures. Following up that film, this year’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald took a different approach than its predecessor’s (mostly) light, Newt-centric, and somewhat carefree tone Although the first Fantastic Beasts featured some heavy tones, The Crimes of Grindelwald embraces them far more wholeheartedly.
It features Credence Barebones going on a desperate journey to find who he is and where he comes from, trying to discover the life that was taken from him. Along the way, the power within him, grown from the trauma he has been subject to him, as well as his own desperation for a place to belong, is used against him as he is manipulated and twisted against his will. Child murder, guilt, and abandonment are also included. In other words, if you are expecting a silly, child-friendly adventure, prepare to be surprised.
Despite this unexpected darkness (and numerous other problems with the story, characters, and filmmaking), I didn’t hate this film (although, with a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 68%, plenty did). It had serious problems with pacing, inconsistent tone, and a few very strange film-making choices. Newt Scamander was underused, considering he is supposed to be the main character, and it sometimes comes off as disjointed and strange.
But I still couldn’t help but enjoy it. Especially towards the end of the story, I was caught up in the mystery of Credence’s backstory and entertained by the action scenes. I loved Jude Law as a young Dumbledore and the scenes placed at Hogwarts brought me back to fond memories. Written by JK Rowling, it added interesting backstory to Harry Potter, expanding the lore in new and fascinating ways. Most importantly, despite its flaws, The Crimes of Grindelwald brought me back to the world of wizards and witches and sparked conversations between fans. As a movie on its own, however, it comes across as somewhat competent, but at times uninteresting with few memorable moments. I hope that these elements will be improved in future installments.