10-word review: Makes you wanna say that "the book was better". Maybe.
The skinny: The movie continues with Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) on an assignment from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) does.
Here be spoilers…
What we like: The action sequences are pretty neat. Like that jailbreak at the beginning or Newt's putting on the bridle on a Kelpie (that horse-like shape-shifting water spirit). Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who was briefly seen in the last movie, fleshed out her character. Here Leta is saddled with a guilt over her brother's death and her past dalliance with Newt.
And isn't Jude Law perfect as young Dumbledore? That charisma, that self-assured confidence in his widow peak, that infuriating manner of which he withholds information until the plot demands that he reveals it. It's hard to imagine that Dumbledore went from this…
… to this, in just a matter of decades.
Dude really lets himself go. That romantic affection he has with Grindelwald must have caused him to an aversion to beard oil or something.
(Oh, yeah. We like to think that Grindelwald and Dumbledore were totes gay for each other but the books hinted that Dumbledore fell hard for Grindelwald but it wasn't mentioned whether that sentiment was reciprocated.)
Anyway, to JK Rowling, if you're reading this, make this relationship happen. Make this Grindeldore slash fiction canon.
What we didn't like: Look. You've read the other reviews, you've heard from your peers—this movie is messy. That's the word that often used to describe it. "Messy". Plot-wise, it was a hot mess. A lot of information was only made available near the end of the movie or that some of the plot points didn't make a lick of sense.
You've to understand that this five-parter Fantastic Beasts movie series is an original concept that's not based on books that Rowling has written. Well, the first Fantastic Beasts movie was loosely based on the book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but that wasn't a novel but rather a guidebook.
The movie adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series was fine in my book because it told a complete story—the pacing was good; most of the plot points were resolved with some threads hinting at things to come. The Crimes of Grindelwald is the next chapter to the series but it felt like filler; just something to tide over to the next movie. This is a disservice to those who are not Rowling's fans, to begin with, and just want to watch a stand-alone film. (Don't get me started on the sudden appearance of Nicolas Flamel, whom every Potterhead would know as the creator of the philosopher's stone in the first Harry Potter movie and the book but to the casual reader or non-reader, we're like, "who the hell is this old duffer that just appeared without any hint or preview?")
But while fingers are pointed at JK Rowling's script, the blame could have lain with David Yates, the director. After all, he has final say over how the film plays out so he could have been directing from a shooting script, a final version of a script after a myriad of rewrites of the story. Maybe Rowling's original telling was better than the final result.
So, I went straight to the source. I picked up a copy of the original screenplay.
And it was actually written almost verbatim as it was shown on screen. Other than her written statement defending the casting choice of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, this isn't her finest work.
Take the jailbreak scene in the beginning. It was exciting to watch and it also sets up how malicious and powerful Grindelwald is. But when you think about it, it doesn't make sense. Because Grindelwald and Abernathy (Kevin Guthrie) switched positions; each man wearing the face of each other—Grindelwald is the jailor and Abernathy is the prisoner, so technically, Grindelwald has escaped but he still stuck around to break Abernathy out of jail?
Sure, you can advocate that Grindelwald is rescuing Abernathy because he's a good and faithful servant but that seems to be a reach given how flippant Grindelwald was with his own henchmen (RIP Krall) and people's lives (RIP French baby).
Okay, so maybe he's trying to get his wand and blood vial?
But he, under the guise of Abernathy, handed the stupid things over to Spielman before taking away fake Grindelwald. He had it on him so there were ample opportunities for him to have absconded with them.
Uh, maybe the jailbreak is just an elaborate show of flash and pizzaz to mask the movie's incoherency; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Also, Grissom (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) is ordered by the Ministry of Magic to kill Credence but then it's revealed that he's working for Grindelwald who has tasked him to protect him. And then, we don't hear anything of Grissom for the rest of the movie.
There's also Leta Lestrange's backstory, which was plonked in the wrong part of the movie if you ask me. Her story of her, as a young child, crossing the ocean to America felt like it just came out of nowhere. It would have worked better if Rowling took a cue from the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. See, Hermione narrates "The Tale of the Three Brothers", which sets up the Deathly Hallows, the three magical artefacts created by Death. Maybe the film would work better if Rowling begins the movie with a young Leta Lestrange on a ship, which would set up the reveal later.
There's a trick to sustaining the audience's interest in a movie or book and that is to not reveal everything at once. Only feed crumbs of information to your consumer bit by bit until that bread trail leads to the rest of the entrée. When utilised correctly, there's a sense of satisfaction of a tale adequately told, that one would revisit over and over again, just to see if there are any other nuances that they failed to spot (see The Prestige or Memento for examples).
Rowling didn't do that. There's the matter of Credence's lineage that was often mentioned but never explained. And when it was elucidated, it took a form of a feint and then a double-feint (that whole reveal[s] in the Lestrange mausoleum). It all felt forced. Like we're stupidly grasping at that obviously out-of-reach carrot.
And throughout the movie, Dumbledore vehemently state that he would not stand against Grindelwald. It was only until the end that we discovered that he can't fight against Grindelwald because they made a blood pact (which became the vial, remember?) not to fight each other. Did this blood pact also take away Dumbledore's ability to actually explain why he couldn't go on the offensive against Grindelwald because his answer sans reason really paints him as a douche?
Travers: Will you stand with us against Grindelwald?
Dumbledore: No, fam.
Travers: Any elaboration as to why you won't-
Dumbledore: LOL. Not until the end of the film.
Terrible. Just terrible.
There are many, many things to nitpick: what happened to the mysterious box that Abernathy passed to Rosier (Poppy Corby-Tuech)? What's the deal with the creepy record-keeper? Why is young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott) not given more screentime? I don't buy Queenie's (Alison Sudol) allegiance to Grindelwald; also, it's a little t0o convenient that Rosier bumped into Queenie in the streets and invited her back to meet with Grindelwald, who lets her go after five minutes of chit-chat?
It's a narrative mess. And even the book of her screenplay isn't a saving grace.
What to look out for: Well, there are three more films before this Fantastic Beasts arc is concluded. Maybe look out for Rowling being a better screenwriter?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out in theatres.