I attended the premier Crimes of Grindelwald, the second movie in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. The following review is, as always, spoiler-free and focuses on the aspects of the storytelling craft that worked and didn’t work for me. So without further ado, here are my thoughts:
Wizarding World—I love being in J.K. Rowling’s world and meeting new characters. I enjoyed the nods to the Harry Potter series as well as the introduction of some new characters with allusion-filled names.
Flow Issues—When the film finished, there was an awkward scattering of clapping followed by a general murmur of questions. For myself, I was quite confused. An hour long conversation with my wife teased out the story, but I had a hard time following. In hind-sight, the story had some really fun elements, but the flow was a major road block for me. The flow issue was the result of several sub-issues:
- Main Character Time—I went into the film expecting the main character to be Newt Scamander, and I think that Rowling intended him to be. However, Newt got considerably less screen time than he should have, and as a result, I had a hard time getting into the other characters. It’s difficult to access secondary characters when you struggle to access the main character. Additionally, Newt was mostly a reactive character who was ‘just there’ while other characters made decisions instead of actively driving the story with his choices.
- Distracting Cinematography—Throughout the movie I found myself thinking about the cinematography. Why are we so close up on his face? Why was that shot shaky? Why is the camera moving so fast? I can’t take in the scene. To compound the distracting cinematography, there were three transitions in the movie that lost me entirely. (Comment below if you want to discuss.) It’s difficult to follow a story if you aren’t sure where the story is taking place.
- Information Delivery—Continually throughout the movie characters have dialogue for the express purpose to give you information on the plot. I only counted three character development conversations over the course of the 2.5 hours of screen time. This sort of info dumping made it hard for me to understand the stakes of the story. One the other side of the coin, certain details were held back till the last third of the film which explained certain characters’ behavior. Not only did this slow the story at points where momentum was supposed to be picking up, but it missed out on the opportunity for dramatic irony that would have been created by getting the secrets out early in the film.
- Assumption Overload—Throughout the film, the movie expected you to make certain assumptions about magic, artifacts, and characters’ knowledge and abilities. I continually made the wrong assumptions, mostly about minor details, which then distracted me later in the movie. Also, why is the movie called Crimes of Grindelwald? That was another assumption that passed me by.
Music—Crimes of Grindelwald did a great job incorporating musical themes from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts. Of note was the general absence of the “Kowalsky Rag”, my favorite theme from the first film.
Paris—After spending the summer in Paris, I appreciated the scenery of the parts of the movie that took place in the city. While certain aspects of the city were definitely artistically ‘improved’ with some CGI, it didn’t detract from the movie at all. I liked seeing classic settings like Sacre Coeur, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and Notre Dame.
Newt—I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight how much I liked Newt’s character in the film. Unlike many protagonists in film, Newt is thoughtful and shy. His character broke through the relentless stream of plot-pounding a couple of times, lending humor and humanity to the otherwise serious and almost robotic motion of other parts of the story.
Overall, I give the movie 2 out of 5 stars. It is definitely a PG-13 movie, mostly due to violence. Fans of the Potterverse will enjoy the movie, but newcomers will be utterly lost.
Should you see it? Yes, but only if you are interested in seeing where the story goes. There are definitely political undertones to the film, some more subtle than others. I am excited to read the screenplay and experience the story at my own pace. I think I speak for most fans, when I say we wish that Rowling would just write books instead of screenplays, but we sure won’t say no to more movies. What do you think?