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Two years after the release of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling has returned with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, the second of five — count ‘em — prequels to the original Harry Potter franchise. But does the new movie, once again directed by franchise stalwart David Yates, have the magical touch fans are hoping for?
“Unlike the first installment, which felt like a strained effort to extend Rowling’s brand, this engaging film has a busy, kinetic style of its own,” writes Caryn James in The Hollywood Reporter’s review. “One of the curious, uninviting choices in the Beasts franchise is its greyish-brown palette, and a flattened, backlot, old-fashioned storybook look. Even fake-Paris looks grim. It’s a relief when the film briefly sets down in the lush green landscape around Hogwarts to visit Dumbledore once more. When the special effects take off, though, the images can be spectacular. In the climactic battle between good and evil, Grindelwald unleashes swirls of icy-blue fire, which take over the screen.”
That fire popped up again in Michael Phillips’ review from the Chicago Tribune, which was otherwise underwhelmed by the movie. “It took J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter-adjacent franchise exactly one film for the shrugs to set in, even with all those fine actors up there amid expensive digital blue flames,” he wrote. Others were similarly bored by what they saw.
Take, for example, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who noted that the new feature “is just as spectacular as the wonderful opening film, with lovingly realized creatures, witty inventions and sprightly vignettes. But I couldn’t help feeling that the narrative pace was a little hampered, and that we are getting bogged down, just a bit, in a lot of new detail.” He added that “some of the wonder, novelty and sheer narrative rush of the first film has been mislaid in favor of a more diffuse plot focus, spread out among a bigger ensemble cast.”
USA Today’s Brian Truitt agreed, writing that “the ambition of Crimes, from the ballooning cast to the gymnastics required to connect the story to the grander mythology, threatens to derail the episode at times,” and noting that the movie “is missing some of the goofy appeal of the original Beasts, where stopping lovable creatures from making a mess of the Big Apple comprised much of the conflict.”
According to Kate Erbland from IndieWire, both magic and planning are “in short supply” in the movie. “In its second outing, the cracks are starting to show in J.K. Rowling’s much-hyped follow-up series to Harry Potter, a franchise that is at the mercy of slapdash planning (these films are cobbled together from various pieces of Wizarding World material, not single novels) and the kind of higher-up decree that promised five films (five!) before the first one hit theaters. It’s a lot of time to fill, and while the second film in the franchise nudges its narrative forward, it’s at the expense of a bloated, unfocused screenplay.”
The sense that the movie is too aware of the larger franchise was one that came up again and again in reviews; The Verge’s Tasha Robinson warned that the series is “headed deep into superfan territory,” adding, “It’s hard to imagine anyone but hardcore Potterheads getting emotionally involved in this film’s convoluted plotting and ancestral reveals,” while Polygon’s Karen Han argued that the movie “wrecks most of [its own] goodwill by succumbing to the cumbersome (and ultimately counterproductive) way in which J.K. Rowling tends to retcon her own work, and the overwhelming effort exerted to set up a third Beasts movie. The flourishes that would distinguish the film, once again directed by Potter series stalwart David Yates, are obliterated by its finale, in favor of an as-yet untitled sequel.”
Not everyone was convinced that even superfans would enjoy the movie, however. Take Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang, who wrote, “An excruciating bore just barely enlivened by stray glimpses of Hogwarts, a flicker of gay romance and a menagerie of computer-generated creepy-crawlies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is enough to make J.K. Rowling fans weep in frustration, provided they can even keep their eyes open.”
It wasn’t all doom, gloom and negative reviews. Fionnuala Halligan of Screen International described the feature as “a film of considerable technical wizardry … an elegantly paced thread of mirrors into past glories (a Diagon Alley-style set in Paris, Newt’s Tardis-like home as a spectacular retort to Hogwarts) coupled with set-pieces which explosively punctuate a story which starts out loosely but narrows its focus very sharply to effectively set up a chess board for the future three films left in the series.”
Meanwhile, the New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinski considered the movie a “much-improved sequel” to the first Fantastic Beasts, noting that the movie improves on the first installment with the proper introduction of the series villain; while others complained about Depp’s performance, Oleksinski described him as “certainly well-cast here as a zombie-like scoundrel.”
Overall, the response to Crimes — at least from initial reviews — is that the movie is darker and more self-conscious than the first movie in the series, suffering from at least the latter of those two changes. If the series is to make it to the end of its planned lifespan, changes might be due for the next installment — including, perhaps, lightening things up just a little. It might not be easy, but when it comes down to it, shouldn’t magic be about doing the impossible …?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens Nov. 16.
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