The Crimes of Grindelwald
A curious film, one to categorize under 'part of a series' than self-contained. But you sit down to these 'multiverse' sagas from Marvel and Warner Bros. (et al) expecting the cliff-hanger concept that really belongs to TV shows. With this expectation, I entered the dark cinema an intrepid explorer like Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, doubtful but ready for the adventure.
The Crimes of Grindelwald gives us the cliff-hanger, but it remains a film whose parts are greater than its sum. Jude Law's Dumbledore is upliftingly lovely, his backstory with Grindelwald poignantly suggestive of a love that dare not speak its name. Elsewhere, the number of characters and subplots felt like frantic, impressively controlled plate-spinning – Harry Potter: Subplots Agogo, perhaps. There are at least four love-arcs and another more peripheral. Eddie Redmayne is interesting as the anti-leading man, neither protagonist nor antagonist, just a pleasantly amiable, gentle individual, wary of human politics but ready enough to join the good fight in spite of his initial reservations.
The film's strengths, indeed, are the adult-like engagements with this wizarding world. In Harry Potter, we got a child's perspective of an adult world; the adults seemed intriguing but we never delved into their perspectives, that was never the point. As a result, we got villains like Voldemort, dehumanized with snake-like faces that you wondered why more of his supporters didn't turn to each other and say, in the style of Mitchell and Webb, 'Are we the bad guys?' Not so in The Crimes of Grindelwald; Johnny Deep is a stylishly more believable and unsettling villain, making speeches that he's deduced different audiences will want to hear. The Crimes of Grindelwald projects an imagining of a wizarding world as experienced by adults.
Which isn't to say the film works as a story. Arguably its greatest problem is Ezra Miller's character Credence, so peripheral and distant as a character and yet crucial to the plot, as different sides vie for his attention. The film might have benefitted from a Lord of the Rings-style introduction, reminding us of his impact in the previous film – if we're going to go 'TV-cliff-hanger,' we may as well embrace it. This is part of another issue: so many potentially beguiling characters become marginalized by shared screen time: Claudia Kim's Nagini owns the camera every time she's on screen but we barely get to know her; a potential love triangle with Zoe Kravitz's Leta Lestrange and the two Scamander brothers can only suggest, rather than explore, fraught emotional possibilities. And as for Newt Scamander's love interest, Tina, played by Katherine Waterston, she barely says a word. Of a big character reveal at the end, meanwhile, I have to admit, I'm not sure I understood it, as it kind of comes from nowhere, like a bad soap opera mixed with Scooby-Doo.
Confusion reigns, then, as a conveyor belt of interesting characters flash before our eyes, like a sushi bar on speed. At the film's end I left the auditorium to overhear a guy telling his friend: 'That was absolute nonsense.' Later I listened to Mark Kermode's podcast review, describing the film as capturing nice moments on too broad and bunched-up a canvas. Yes, all these things but also finally this: there's a cuteness in The Crimes of Grindelwald that I found missing in the Marvel Universe, the small (and not so small) fluffy animals are winsome, and it's a relief to not have the screen time split between Robert Downey Junior's snarkiness and Chris Evans basketball-bounce his Star-Spangled grimness in the name of truth. A messy, sometimes cute, occasionally confusing slice of stardust, not the worst of its kind, but not the clearest either.