As President of HPSoc I jumped at the chance to review a Harry Potter film. Writing this review however has been a battle between objectivity and my love for the franchise. But as much as I wanted to give a glowing review, nostalgia cannot hide the film’s evident flaws. Our story picks up six months after the events of Fantastic Beasts – dark wizard Grindelwald has escaped custody and Dumbledore tasks Newt Scamander with putting a stop to his schemes for wizard domination.
The film primarily suffers from being the second outing in a franchise with another three movies planned. Consequently, it spends more time setting up further sequels than providing us with a satisfying story in this instalment. Considering the amount of information that the film throws at the audience, it feels surprising that some important exposition is lacking. The trailer already made clear that Credence Barebone had somehow survived his apparent death at the end of Fantastic Beasts, and yet the means of his seemingly impossible survival is not revealed.
Overloading us with complicated backstories, whilst missing out on some of the essentials speaks more generally to the plot’s disjointed nature. The film would have gained a lot by spending longer in the editing room as it simply tries to pack too much into one movie. Throughout the film there is indeed a marked preference for plot over character. Although the central plot centres on Credence’s attempts to discover his true identity, he is given little meaningful screen time to make us really root for his success. Throughout the film’s events, he is accompanied by Nagini in human form. Despite the revelation that Voldemort’s snake used to be a woman plagued by a blood curse, for all the hype that this generated she is given a very small role that will leave viewers angry that this reveal had very little significance in the film.
The Crimes of Grindelwald caused a stir long before it hit screens with the casting of Johnny Depp and the decision to refrain from explicit reference to Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship. Johnny Depp may not be how many people envisaged Grindelwald, yet he brought tons of charisma to the role, setting Grindelwald up to be a dangerous villain. As warned, we were not shown Harry Potter’s first gay relationship, but while a simple shot of intertwined fingers aptly conveys Dumbledore’s inner turmoil, it ultimately was only really there to serve the plot.
Visually, the film cannot be faulted. Exquisite costumes, and vibrant depictions of magic renders The Crimes of Grindelwald a feast for the eye, though the final duel could have been more creatively staged than a war between different colours of fire. Newt’s creatures were less of a focus this time, but they still had a suffcient presence to justify the franchise’s title, and were also responsible for a high proportion of the laughs in my screening.
The amount of connections to the main Harry Potter franchise makes The Crimes of Grindelwald a treat for fans of the original series. Familiar family names and characters appear, including a younger version of Albus Dumbledore – big shoes for any actor to fill, but Jude Law comfortably exceeds expectations. This means that the viewer’s enjoyment
is heavily dependent on their familiarity with Harry Potter, as the film relies on the nostalgia it can evoke from viewers.
The film’s twist reveal at the end was both shocking and intriguing. If explained well in subsequent films, it could come close to Vader’s iconic reveal to Luke at the end of Empire Strikes Back. Overall, The Crimes of Grindelwald leaves us with more questions than answers – maybe it’s time for J.K. to relinquish the scriptwriting quill and stick to her novels.