#SpoilerFree “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” – a sumptuous sophomore slump

“I hate Paris.”
“I always wanted to go here!”

Why am I starting with two quotes this go’round? Because like these discordant bits, I’m torn. There’s a part of me that absolutely loves what Grindelwald has done in terms of fleshing out the darker, less kid-friendly parts of the wizarding world. Just like real life, there are dark places where bad things – sometimes very bad things – happen. Individuals get killed because they’re simply in the way. A reflexive reaction had far-reaching consequences. And an adorable little horned lizard-thing gets used. (Stick a pin in that last one.) It feels like real, and while it may not have the same vibe as the Potter series, or even the first Beasts, it’s understandable.

Then there’s the part of me that is truly ticked off at the opportunities wasted here. New characters are introduced without so much as a by-your-leave (a few don’t even get a name). Beloved characters do things that don’t really make sense, but could have if the motivation had been fleshed out a bit more. And in a few cases, there’s a jarring crash of new/new-ish character with unknown motivations that turn what should be important, thrilling moments into moments that made me go “well, guess that’s happening. Pity.”

How do I say this without coming off as a dick? Grindelwald is choppy. Director David Yates did excellent work with the final four films in the Harry Potter series, but with Grindelwald, there’s simply too much going on all at once, and as the story unfolds it feels as if the director and crew are simply trying to keep  up. I’m guessing editing this film must have been a real beast. (Stick a pin in that too.) While I absolutely love J. K. Rowling and the worlds she’s created, perhaps she should have a bit of help with putting her world on film. A second set of eyes – ones with a better understanding of how a screenplay should work – would have done wonders here. Rowling has a wonderful way of breathing life into her characters, giving fans individuals we truly root for. With Beasts, I loved socially clumsy but strong-willed Newt, open hearted and loyal Queenie, determined but caring Tina, and of course Jacob the Everyman. I love them here as well, but other characters new to this series barely get a glossing over.

The mysterious and enigmatic Leta Lestrange is still mysterious and enigmatic (though Zoë Kravitz does her absolute best to flesh out the reasons behind her life choices). Theseus Scamander is simply The Brother, even though Callum Turner gives good determined face. Claudia Kim’s Nagini is given nothing but sad face to work with, and the bond between Nagini and Creedence is never explained, it’s just a thing that exists. And as Grindlewald’s eeeee-vil toady Rosier, Poppy Corby-Tuech tries to do more than glower and simmer, but she’s just a cipher. In fact, I had no idea what the characters name was until I checked IMDb. While I’m hoping future films will do better by at least some of these characters, they should have been done right, right here.

As for Our Gang, Redmayne is even better as Newt, throwing in touches of true bravery and dare I say it…love? I dare! I dare! Moments between Newt and Katnerine Waterston’s Tina are adorably touching, even with the requisite miscommunication all series seem to need to keep that will they/won’t they flame burning. And I’m happy to see that Waterston is able to play around with Tina’s determination and steadfast demeanor here; there are moments where Tina is unsure and lost, and the character is better for it. As is everyone’s favorite (future) Headmaster. As Dumbledore, Jude Law plays the wizard who uses frivolity to mask his demons. There’s a sly, sassy twinkle in his eye, and the start of the “by any means necessary” neutral good vibe that truly comes into play with a certain Boy Who Lived. Look for a scene between Dumbledore and Leta; it’s absolute perfection, and the kind of intense character-centric scene I was hoping I’d see more of in Grindelwald.

Everyone’s favorite strudel maker Queenie gets the short straw though. Alison Sudol is incredible, and gets to flex her impressive talent as Queenie gets put through the wringer (not a spoiler – y’all saw her tearing up in the trailer)…but here’s another bit of character waffling that could have used more buildup. Sudol has the chops to handle it, give her a bit something to really work with. Heck, just give us all more Queenie + Jacob, please. Those two are adorable, and their budding relationship needs more than a simple by-your-leave at the start of the film. I need more info. So does the plot.

Speaking of needing more, got those pins from earlier?  Good. Because while I’m well aware that this series is the “Wizarding World”, and not “Fantastic Beasts”, I wanted more beasts. Yes, there are new creatures introduced. Yes, every single one of them are absolutely adorable (okay, maybe not the Kappa. But he’s a demon so I’m gonna say he’s an…acquired taste.) But we don’t get the info we got in Beasts, just the creatures. And that’s a pity. Wafer-thin spoiler?  Okay – cue invisotext! You know the baby Nifflers (aka The Nifflettes)? What you’ve seen of ’em in the trailer is almost all you’ll see of ’em in this film. I’m sorry. And sad.

Heck, this movie is already two hours and fourteen minutes; another sixteen and we could have not only gotten our beasts on, but the characters could have had solid reasoning behind most of their decisions. I loved the cinematography, the set design, and of course those glorious costumes. I loved the twists and secrets this film unveiled; even though I’d correctly guessed at a few, there were several I absolutely did not see coming. (#ProtectTheSecrets, sweetie.)  Check out Grindlewald’s big speech. (Yeah, I’d rather have Farrell too. But Depp manages to pause his phoned-in performance and be truly present for this big scene.)  As the credits rolled, I wanted to see Film #3 immediately.  But I mourned for the character driven story that Grindelwald just didn’t give me.

One last thing and I’m outta here. The whole “gaywashing” of Dumbledore? I don’t get it. Okay, I’m not queer, so I have no true skin in the game. But Jude Law’s Dumbledore is absolutely, 100% pining for who Grindelwald used to be. It’s absolutely on screen. And one particular scene – shhh! – makes that bloody well obvious. I don’t want him to be anything more than who he is; a hella powerful wizard and excellent professor that just happens to be gay, thank you very much. Grindelwald does Dumbledore perfectly.

So go, my fellow Potterheads. Enjoy the glorious scenery, and the introduction to many new and glorious places in Rowling’s world. Ogle the beautiful creatures. Lust after Queenie’s wardrobe (just me?) You’ll be ecstatic. But don’t go in looking for a deeper dive into the minds of these characters, or a plot that does more than go from point to point to point without a breath. You’ll be disappointed.

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