This is a spoiler-free review for The Crimes of Grindelwald that is safe to read if you haven’t seen the film yet. I will be writing a second, more detailed review with spoilers after the premiere date.
I was lucky enough to be asked by Warner Bros to attend an early screening of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in Washington D.C. on November 3rd, and I can’t even put into words how excited and honored I was to be a part of that experience. My screening and a few others around the country were the very first screenings of the film, followed by a live Q&A with the cast.
Now on to the actual review…
I’ve seen people complain and ask what’s the point of a prequel series if we already know what happens? Well the answer is simple: we don’t know what’s going to happen. We only know broad strokes.
No wonder they could afford to drop something as big as the Nagini twist in the trailer. Expect the unexpected with this series going forward. The first Fantastic Beasts served as a window to a new era of characters. The Crimes of Grindelwald is a window to a new story – which does kind of work against it at times.
You may think you know everything about this world and familiar characters like Nagini and Albus Dumbledore, but this film definitely proves that you don’t.
Is this the real beginning to the story?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an introduction to new characters and a new part of the wizard world. The story is very contained and streamlined, which I love. It’s comparable to the first three Harry Potter films.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is more like Goblet of Fire. We’ve moved past a contained, standalone story and have moved into a longer form of storytelling. This film is the real beginning to the series – which is both good and bad. The downfalls are that you initially expect there to be a more happening in this movie. The series is definitely slow-moving. It makes Fantastic Beasts feel like a preface, while Crimes of Grindelwald feels like the first chapter. You’ll probably see some staunch movie critics being hyper critical about this, and I can partly see why, but I also think they’re generally missing the mark. The main conflict is more discreet, and the story is progressing much slower than you’d expect, but that’s okay. It’s more character-focused, and a clear build up to a greater fight looming in the future.
Introducing… a lot of new characters.
We still have introductions to tons of new characters and a whole new part of the wizard world in Crimes of Grindelwald. There’s an entire new cast of characters, more than the first film actually. And they’re all important with central plotlines. This does make the film a little confusing at times, as we weave in and out of plots. Newt is clearly still the main character, and also one of my all-time favorites from the Potterverse, but we have a lot of characters that lead with him. Again, I’d say this is both good and bad. It’s really cool to see so many new characters and stories, but it does feel a little unfocused and overwhelming at times. This, and what I talked about above, are where the film struggles the most, but it’s a blip on the screen in comparison to all the great things going on. I can easily overlook a convoluted narrative in exchange for compelling characters, a great story, and plenty of Potter-nostalgia.
The two new characters that standout the most are Leta Lestrange and Yusuf Kama. They both have a lot of screentime, with huge storylines that are vital to the events unfolding in the film. I also have a fondness for Theseus Scamander, though I reckon he won’t be everyone’s favorite, he’s my brand of character. He and Newt have an entertaining and intriguing dynamic that is one of my favorite parts of the film. Also, the casting is spot on because Eddie Redmayne and Callum Turner honestly look like they were twins separated at birth.
Jude Law IS Albus Dumbledore
Another standout character is Albus Dumbledore. Though he’s not new, Jude Law’s portrayal is.
I always have trouble with actor switches, whether it’s a replacement or a new actor for a new age. But I actually think that Jude Law’s transition works infinitely better than Michael Gambon’s did when Richard Harris passed away. I’ve always felt like Michael Gambon’s portrayal was startlingly different than Richard Harris’ in the first two films. He’s great, but they played Dumbledore very differently. Love him or hate him, Albus Dumbledore is such an iconic character and putting a new actor in that role is daunting. Aside from Nagini, he’s the only character we know, and we know him very well.
One of the top things about Crimes of Grindelwald is that Jude Law IS Albus Dumbledore. There is no convincing needed. From his very first scene when he turns to look at Newt, which is in the trailer, he owns the role on every level. During the Q&A, the rest of the cast even remarked that he encompasses that famous “twinkle” in the eye. If I had to pick my #1 favorite thing about the film, it would hands down be Jude Law’s performance. And I’ll give you a very small spoiler… Dumbledore isn’t even in the film that much. He’s extremely important, but as for screentime… it’s fairly small.
There’s no doubt that his role is going be much bigger in the upcoming films, but for now, as he’s said again and again, he “can’t move against Grindelwald”. Which brings me to the biggest question that everyone has been asking me…
What’s up with Dumbledore and Grindelwald?
Yes, they do address their relationship. A lot. Sometimes it’s subtle, and other times it’s not. There’s one line in particular that hints at something more, and it’s clearly a storyline that’s going to unravel as the series progresses. A full flashback is bound to happen in future films, especially because Toby Regbo and Jamie Campbell Bower have been brought back to reprise their roles.
As for acting, Jude Law is perfect. And you can say what you want about Johnny Depp, but he’s a good actor, especially when it comes to this type of role. He doesn’t outshine Jude Law per se, but he’s a convincing Grindelwald.
For now, I’ll leave it at that because spoilers. But I’ll definitely be talking more about their relationship in the second review.
Other Noteworthy Highlights:
– The score! Harry Potter films never disappoint when it comes to the music.
– Have I mentioned how much I love Newt Scamander? Never has a character skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorite characters as fast as Newt. He’s so endearing and Good, yet completely flips the traditional male hero stereotype upside down. Theseus is the type of guy who you’d expect as the heroic lead enlisted in this fight, but instead it’s Newt.
– Returning to Hogwarts! Everyone in the theater cheered, and it was a glorious moment.
– The Scamander brothers have a wonderfully unique dynamic, and it’s very interesting to watch on screen. The casting is also excellent for Theseus.
– The Niffler is back and just as adorable as in the first film.
– Newt and Tina being adorable and so stupidly unaware of their mutual feelings for each other.
Final thoughts on The Crimes of Grindelwald?
Well, the audience clapped three times: Dumbledore’s entrance, returning to Hogwarts, and the credits. So I’d say that’s a very successful Potter movie. Although it does feel more like a prelude to the next film, it’s still a adequate combination of Potter-nostalgia and a new, yet eerily familiar story.