More noise than signal

The Crimes of Grindelwald

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I wouldn’t blame you if you’d forgotten how Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them ended a few years ago, but it shockingly revealed that evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) had been at large in Colin Farrell’s body, before being arrested, to the disinterested shrugs of all involved. The Crimes of Grindelwald wastes no time in breaking him out of chokey, releasing him to the pre-WW2 world to do… well, not all that much, as it turns out.

He’s fled to Paris and sets about attracting a cadre of like-minded wizard supremacists, couching their language in concerns for the non-magical folks’ increasing capacity for self-destruction, but behind closed doors seeking dominion. Who should face up to this threat? Jude Law’s Dumbledor? Probably, but he can’t, for reasons of no interest to all but the Potter lore obsessives. The appropriate authorities? Probably, but they can’t because mumble mumble look over there a shiny thing. A magical zookeeper? Yes! Fetch Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scoobydooby.

The flimsiness of the rationale for dispatching him to Paris is rivalled only by the reasons for having Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein and Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski showing back up. And if you think those were flimsy, just you wait until you get to the reasons they break apart, or indeed to the introduction of Voldemort’s snake, who is a Korean lady here, please – don’t ask.

My main issue with the first Fantastic Beasts film was that the story was barely more than a fag packet sketch that could be summed up as “Grindelwald exists”. My main issue with this outing is that exactly the same summation applies, and it’s very hard to see this as anything other than a lazy cash in, or at the most forgiving, a gratingly drawn out version of what should have been the first act of whatever the next film winds up being, assuming that one has a plot worth discussing.

It’s not fair to say that it’s entirely a repeat of the last film – Rowling’s taken some inspiration from the Star Wars Disneyverse by stuffing in pointless references to past works to gain some fuzzy nostalgic feels. Do you remember Nicholas Flammel? Have you craved an on-screen presence for him? Well, your long nightmare is finally over, you lone weirdo, but I can’t imagine most others caring in the slightest. I most certainly didn’t.

And the rest of it, well, it’s a thing that was in front of my eyeballs for somewhere north of two hours, at least a half hour too long, that’s put together well enough mechanically that it wasn’t a dull experience. David Yates and co have been at the wizarding grindstone often enough to know how this sort of thing goes, with decent enough CG and all that jazz. The actors, even the allegedly #metooey ones like Depp, do what’s asked of them well enough.

They’re let down by a script from Rowling that’s, well, barely present, and characters so unmemorable that I had an argument on the way out of the cinema with my wife on whether Ezra Miller’s character was actually in the first film. Which also underlines the unmemorability of the central premise of that film, which sadly continues into this one. It’s all gathering clouds with no release of a thunderstorm, and lots of Rowling stomping around saying “I am making a clever allegory here without actually having anything happen”. Again, all text, no subtext. I know authors that use subtext, and they’re cowards.

Eddie Redmayne’s Doctor Who knockoff is, by himself, alright – mainly, and perhaps only, because Redmayne is such a likable actor – but he’s bumbling around in situations of such grave import that it’s a weird, unsatisfying clash. A series that seems like it should be a mild mannered, socially awkward guy having whacky adventures with far-fetched magical animals is being hammered into the shape of an anti-fascist, rise of the Nazis analogy that’s forced to the point of shattering. It’s a bad idea, poorly observed, underwritten, and is a glowing weak spot in the film’s makeup.

There’s enough competence in other areas that I couldn’t call The Swindles of Grimble Bimble a bad film, but it’s so aggressively mediocre that it’s of no interest to anyone outside the hardcore Potter fans.

Of course, the most pressing question raised by this film is at exactly what point Dumbledore switched over from sharp three-piece suits to fabulously bejewelled bathrobes as acceptable daywear.