Family Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (PG-13)

'Crimes of Grindelwald' is a derivative copy of the 'Harry Potter' formula.

Kernel Rating: 2.5 (2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 133 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. This sequel to 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' skews even further in the 'Harry Potter' direction, with a villain who uses very Voldemort-like methods: he kills a human family, including a baby, and many wizards; a character sacrifices herself in a magical duel; people are killed while passing through a magical fire, and you see them burning alive; characters fight and insult each other, including calling each other "crazy"; a boat full of people, including a baby, drown; there are some gross moments involving the titular beasts, including a parasite that lives in someone's eye; some light romantic tension between a few characters, and some kissing; and discussions of good vs. evil, including an imaginary sequence of war, with Holocaust-like images and a nuclear bomb explosion.

By Roxana Hadadi

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," the first film in J.K. Rowling's next exploration into the Wizarding World, didn't have the same instant attraction of "Harry Potter." The film was a little overstuffed, and the characters weren't that well-developed, and the film seemed to lean heavily on its CGI beasts to move the plot forward. But at least "Fantastic Beasts" was its own idea, and only tangentially connected to the "Harry Potter" universe we've already explored over seven novels and eight films. Disappointingly, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" swings the story back toward Hogwarts, and its a derivative copy of what we've already learned about the Wizarding World through "Harry Potter."

FantasticBeastsTheCrimesofGrindelwald ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview 1All of the same elements as "Harry Potter" are now here in "Crimes of Grindelwald." Protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, of "Early Man"), in the previous film a lover of animals who bucks against authority, is now our Harry character, embarking on a mission of sorts at the request of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Human Jacob (Dan Fogler, of "Free Birds") is basically Ron Weasley, a bit of a bumbling sidekick. The female characters, including sisters Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), are pushed aside (there is no clear Hermione replacement here), but the villain, Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales"), is essentially just a Voldemort copy. He wants wizards to rule over humans, he wants to turn Muggles into slave labor, and he tells wizards that only he has the power and the skill to make this dream of wizard domination a reality. Oh, and he has an antagonistic relationship with Dumbledore, just as Voldemort did in the "Harry Potter" films.

There are so many similarities now between the two franchises that the "fantastic beasts" seem wholly immaterial. Instead, this sequel is stuffed with characters -- including the darkly powerful Credence (Ezra Miller, of "Justice League"), escaped from his abusive human family and now on a hunt to find his witch birth mother, and Newt's former love interest Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz, of "Kin"), of one of the recognizably evil families from "Harry Potter" -- that the movie uneasily juggles between various subplots, never really finding a rhythm. And yet because the story feels so familiar, every development is also a bit anticlimactic.

"The Crimes of Grindelwald" opens with the titular wizard's escape from confinement at the American Ministry of Magic, where he has been tortured for three months. He's keen to find Credence, who he believes is the secret to wizard rule over humankind, and so he ends up in Paris; meanwhile, Newt is being watched by the British Ministry of Magic, and yet Dumbledore gives him a task: to also go to Paris and find Credence. But Newt is being pulled in various directions -- Jacob and Queenie are on the outs romantically; Newt's brother is set to marry Leta, who Newt once had feelings for; and Tina, Newt's love interest in the first film, is now an Auror and is also hunting Credence in Paris. Why this young man is so important, and how he syncs up with Grindelwald's plans, is left for a final-scene reveal that feels particularly manipulative and throws into question where this series is going to go.

This is a darker film than "Fantastic Beasts" -- numerous people die and others turn evil -- but "Crimes of Grindelwald," because of its overlap with "Harry Potter," also feels strangely boring. Certain characters spend all movie doing barely anything, and the wide-open nature of the ending in particular cheapens the preceding film. The "Fantastic Beasts" franchise will certainly continue, but "The Crimes of Grindelwald" indicates a narrative shift that no longer feels very unique.

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