Unfortunately, even the most meticulous world-building is only half the journey; you still have to populate that world with real characters and compelling stories, and it’s that second half of the equation that comes up missing in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
The film throws plenty of plot twists, loud noises, and multihued magical nebulae at us, but rarely is there much tension, or sense of adventure, or any real longing, just the feeling of watching one chess piece after another being moved into position. The Harry Potter saga also risked growing overloaded with plot machinations in its closing episodes, but that series had on its side the intense investment its audience had developed watching those characters grow up — and in many cases, growing up along with them.
But everything about The Crimes of Grindelwald is inward-looking and self-referential: it smacks of an epic join-the-dots game played across reams of unpublished appendices and footnotes. The result is one of the gravest cases of prequel-itis since Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in which in place of ordinary storytelling, a chessboard’s-worth of characters and objects are fussily rearranged over the course of two hours plus change, in order to set the stage for whatever comes next.
Things have been established. This needs to stand alone. It needs to have an interesting story with dynamic characters and only tangentially tease toward future films that may or may not happen. However, Rowling’s script goes the opposite way. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is even less concerned with telling a concise, satisfying story than its predecessor. What’s worse is at almost every turn, it weaves in broad strokes created only to set up the next movie, few of which add to what’s actually happening on screen.
The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t care about the movie you are watching. It’s filled with odd, annoying coincidences or unexplained links that feel unnecessarily lazy.
On the page, Rowling is a master storyteller, creating worlds so richly populated and densely textured that you can easily summon them up in your mind without ever having watched a single adaptation of her work. What occasionally trips her up is plot structure — the arrangement of all her attractive, whirling parts. Steve Kloves, who wrote all but one of the Harry Potter movies, was gifted at giving cinematic shape to Rowling’s increasingly long novels, with all their detours and savory details. Here, however, Rowling has surrendered to her maximalist tendencies and so cluttered up the story that you spend far too much time trying to untangle who did what to whom and why.
The overriding comment from these reviews is that Rowling has made The Crimes of Grindelwald too cluttered, and the narrative has suffered as a result. To hear this is a disappointment; Rowling is a master at creating intricate and engrossing stories, but it seems that this time she’s included too many characters and trying to tell all their individual tales is just too much. The question now, is whether she’ll keep all those characters in place going forward, or will Newt, Tina, Jacob and others play a lesser role as the Fantastic Beasts franchise shifts focus to Grindelwald, Dumbledore, and Credence?