“The real driving force behind Crimes of Grindelwald seems to be a burning desire to set up a sequel. If only it had gone to the trouble of making me want to see one.”

Early reviews of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald reveal critics, like ‘s Angie Han, are less than spellbound by the second part of the planned five film franchise. 

The Harry Potter spinoff marks the tenth cinematic visit to J.K. Rowling‘s Wizarding World; and while trips to Hogwarts are always welcome, the monstrous flick isn‘t leaving anyone wanting more. According to critics, the starring performances of Eddie Redmayne and Johnny Depp both fall flat, while the fan service remains thin and unimaginative. 

In theaters November 16, Crimes of Grindelwald will need to dazzle fans better than it wowed critics to keep momentum up. If not, the beastly flick could meet a grisly end. 

Check out critics‘ takes on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald below.

Crimes of Grindelwald is a little too focused on its own long game

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This Fantastic Beasts film is as watchable and entertaining as expected and it’s an attractive Christmas event, but some of the wonder, novelty and sheer narrative rush of the first film has been mislaid in favour of a more diffuse plot focus, spread out among a bigger ensemble cast. There’s also a more self-conscious, effortful laying down of foundations for a big mythic franchise with apocalyptic battles still way off below the horizon.

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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 noisiest, most rhythmless, and least coherent entry in the Wizarding World saga since Alfonso Cuarón first gave the franchise its sea legs in 2004, “Grindelwald” feels less like “The Hobbit” than a trawl through the appendixes of “The Silmarillion” — a confusing jumble of new characters and eye-crossing marginalia. Most of the surface pleasures of filmic Potterdom (the chiaroscuro tones, the overqualified character actors, the superb costuming, James Newton Howard’s warmly enveloping score) have survived intact, but real magic is in short supply.

Eddie Redmayne‘s Newt is still no Harry 

Two movies in, I don’t know what Newt wants besides becoming the Wizarding World’s Steve Irwin. That goal involves neither Grindelwald nor Dumbledore, and, even as a reluctant protagonist, I fail to see any reason why Newt is qualified to lead this story. Things only happen to Newt. Nothing happens because of him. This was also Harry Potter’s problem, but at least Potter’s “Chosen One” schtick had legs to get him through seven books and eight movies. Newt doesn’t even have that, which makes the prospect of another Fantastic Beasts sound less exciting and more like a threat against the Muggle world.

It‘s somehow both overwhelming and boring

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But the ambition of “Crimes,” from the ballooning cast to the gymnastics required to connect the story to the grander mythology, threatens to derail the episode at times. One subplot involving French-African magic man Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), Newt’s Hogwarts crush, is downright head-spinning. However, as much as the new sequel bridges gaps to various “Potter” lineages and personalities, it also ties into real-world history in intriguing fashion. 

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Their collaboration seems to have actually worsened with this movie, the second installment of a projected five-feature franchise. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is somehow both hectic and leaden, a thing of exhausting, pummeling mediocrity. It offers up dazzling feats of sorcery and realms of wonderment (early 20th-century London and Paris among them) and manages to conjure the very opposite of magic.

Johnny Depp‘s starring role as Grindelwald far from shines

Ah, Grindelwald. As a villain he had so much potential. His mismatched eyes have one brown and one white iris, and his soul is as cold as his yellow-white hair and pallor. He gathers his supporters at a rally that is both historical in its overt references to Nazism and eerily topical today.

Yet Depp grandstands in one more gimmicky, costume-driven performance, with one more plummy accent. That routine grew tiresome many movies ago. Thankfully, the actor has limited time on screen here. (Yates and Rowling have defended his casting in the wake of domestic abuse allegations, which Depp has denied; completely apart from that, he is no help to this film.)

Grindelwald is the bigger disappointment, though, with most issues stemming from the lack of any kind of meaningful engagement with the character. At the very start we learn through expositional dialogue that he is a smart and dangerous manipulator, but despite seeing a plethora of recruits, we never actually see him fully execute this skill. Instead, we simply know what he‘s doing, and we‘re told it‘s bad… and that‘s about it. Rather than coming across as scary or dangerous, he is merely painted as Representative Antagonist who we only know is sinister because the heroes don‘t like him. For all of the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp‘s casting, it‘s strange just how underutilized he is.

The Potterhead fan service is thin, but occasionally worth it

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Even visits to the Ministry of Magic come with the special frisson of discovery relished in the “Harry Potter” films. There are new creatures to discover, new family secrets, and enough winks to the Rowling-created universe to keep Potterheads pleased. Yet some of the most anticipated revelations fall flat, including Newt’s previous bond with Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) to a deeper exploration of young Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship. Rowling seems to be playing to the fans in the thinnest way possible, building in stories that require foreknowledge to appreciate them fully. The unindoctrinated will be confused; the admirers, disappointed.

Dumbledore’s scenes take Potter fans back to their beloved Hogwarts, as well as down memory lane for both Newt and Leta. These sequences are unquestionably, on a surface level, fan service, but they’re also the best scenes in the movie. In retrospect, it’s easy to imagine that a stronger prequel series might’ve just followed the adventures and schemes of a young Dumbledore, turning the tables on the school years’ formula of the original stories.