Going into the cinema, one of the biggest question marks for this film was definitely the plot. Seeing as Crimes of Grindelwald is based off an original screenplay by JK Rowling, who has been kind of going wild throwing twists and turns in her story world, I was expecting a film full of plot twists and references to the Harry Potter series.
The film started off well; I enjoyed the opening sequence where Grindelwald escapes while being transferred to another prison. I thought the act of him throwing the creature that had helped him subdue his captors out of the carriage to its death was an apt way of displaying how he’s completely contrary to Newt; he doesn’t care for the lives of beasts at all. Likewise, we also see how he’s contrary to Newt in terms of his ability to win people over with his ‘silver tongue’ (I’m honestly not sure if this was an actual magical thing or just a way to describe his persuasiveness); having won three guards at the prison to his side and as we see, has pulled Abernathy over, who was even willing to have his tongue cut off in Grindelwald’s place. Indeed, we see Grindelwald’s insidious pull throughout the film; bringing Auror’s to his side, and of course, Queenie.
After the nice opening sequence, we cut to three months later, where we see Newt in the UK Ministry of Magic. We are introduced to Leta Lestrange, played by Zoe Kravitz, who clearly has history with Newt. Perhaps the almost uncomfortable close-ups of their faces as they converse is a reflection of their former intimacy. We are also introduced to Newt’s brother, Theseus, who I suppose is meant to be something of a foil to Newt’s character, seeing how he’s an Auror, a vocation Newt clearly dislikes, and appears to be a socially superior version of Newt that could have been; seeing how he is held in high regard in the ministry and is wedded to Leta.
Here’s where the plot begins to get messy.
We’re thrust into a whirlwind of urgent exposition as Newt meets Dumbledore (played very well by Jude Law, by the way), we’re given some news on Tina, who is also in Paris looking for Credence, and of the new Nagini-Credence relationship. We’re also introduced to Yusuf Kama, who I honestly felt was a completely unnecessary character who only served to complicate the plot without adding any real substance to it. We also learn of the conflict within the Queenie-Jacob relationship, as wizards are barred from marrying muggles, giving reason for Queenie to turn to Grindelwald at this injustice. Oh, and Bunty. I thought she was a somewhat interesting if also unnecessary addition, who also only served to complicate things needlessly with her clear affection for Newt, leaving one to surmise that there’ll be an arc involving her unrequited love (which never surfaces in this movie; she doesn’t appear at all after the few minutes we see her, perhaps in the sequel?). There’s also the introduction of Nicholas Flamel, who always seems only to appear as a nod to fans of the original series, as he’s mentioned as Dumbledore’s friend in the first Harry Potter book. His role is, like Bunty, rather needless. He seems to serve only as a powerful wizard who shows up in the finale to aid in battle. I think it’s clear an issue arises very quickly in this film, which is that it’s simply way too crowded. The problem is not that there’s too big a supporting cast, it’s that J.K Rowling has set up multiple points of conflict and interest among them needlessly, resulting in an unfulfilling finale where we’re too tied up with all of the various complicated plot lines to really know what to feel about some of these characters.
I think we can tell that the story was meant to have everything lead to Grindelwald; in the finale, the various characters all physically present themselves to him.
I thought the film could have been so much more cohesive if they had removed the Yusuf plotline, and focused on the Newt-Leta story more. That would have made her declaration of love towards the end far more meaningful (I also liked how they made it ambiguous whether she said it to Newt or Theseus), as I thought the flashbacks to the Newt-Leta school days were definitely some of the nicer scenes. Letting the confusing revelation that coiled the Leta-Credence-Yusuf story together take centre stage seemed to suddenly make much of the main cast almost insignificant to the bigger plot, making for an underwhelming finale.
Of course, the main talking point coming out of the theatre was the deus ex machina J.K Rowling throws us at the very end, that Credence is a Dumbledore. Clearly, this is a cliffhanger move to set up the sequel, but I thought it only served to further throw the Leta-Credence-Yusuf story into irrelevance, which utterly confuses me because they had set that up as a climactic revelation and the driving point of the plot.
We are treated to some nice scenes, most of them involving various beasts. I thought the action sequences in the French Ministry of Magic was nice. I enjoyed the Tina-Newt reunion scene, which brought out the peculiarities of Newt’s character in a really charming way, props to Eddie Redmayne for fleshing out Newt’s character so well. As I stated early, I also really enjoyed the Newt-Leta story, especially the flashbacks. Perhaps a biased part of me enjoyed them because of the familiar Hogwarts setting, but I thought they provided a nice escape from the overcomplicated plot that was coiling itself into a mess. The final battle was nice but kind of came out of nowhere; what were those fiery beasts and why are we seeing them for the first time in the final battle?
Overall, it had it’s moments, but definitely very, very messy. This Harry Potter fan is definitely disappointed.