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If you didn't see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, then you will be as confused as me who did see it. The story itself had the potential to be interesting as a solid prequel to the Harry Potter franchise, but it couldn't decide what it was about.
The story aims to follow the crimes of the infamous dark-wizard Gellert Grindelwald which if you're a fan of the books has been discussed at length near the end of the series. So, for fans of the Harry Potter series, it's not exactly like we do not have a general idea of where the story is supposed to go. The question remains for me, does J.K. Rowling know where she aims to go?
Rowling was a masterful storyteller when she wrote the original Harry Potter books but she had a great advantage in that she chose to tell the story via novels. Rowling has written both films in the Fantastic Beasts franchise and that's just the problem. Rowling is used to the framework that a novel allows but is inadequate when it comes to writing a screenplay.
If you've read the Harry Potter books recently then you'll know that Rowling was preparing for the final book as early on as the first. Which, in a novel is great and works extremely well. In fact, I'd argue next to Tolkien her ability to world-build is unmatched. However, she is using that same strategy in writing the Fantastic Beasts films and it just doesn't work.
The Harry Potter films had Steve Kloves behind them a master of adaptation. Rowling is not a master. That's why this film really suffered even more so than its predecessor. First and foremost, I had to go back and re-watch the original Fantastic Beasts after seeing the sequel to remember all the characters and plot lines the second film expands on.
Continuing on that same line of characters, there's just too many that are too poorly developed and some not developed at all. Now, granted, this is going to be a five-part franchise but still, you're better off knowing who you're telling the story about right away.
I'll be honest the main character, Newt Scamander played by Eddie Redmayne is interesting but I'm not really sure why he's there. His role in the film could easily have been done by any other wizard and I'm not sure why Grindelwald ever became part of the same franchise. It may have worked if there was a Fantastic Beasts franchise and a Young Dumbledore franchise. The fusion of the two just doesn't really track.
A character in any film or story is crucial but I argue even more crucial in a franchise like Harry Potter that centers around the character who shares its namesake. If this was the introduction into the wizarding world then I'd be more forgiving but J.K. Rowling built a very well defined world with characters that are so beloved that people have now begun to name their children after them.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald follows more characters and separate plotlines than I can or care to keep track of. Newt Scamander, his brother, Albus Dumbledore, Nagini, Jacob Kowalski, Creedence, the Goldstein sisters, a previously discussed member of the Lestrange family and of course Grindelwald and his followers. For all of these characters though, I really only know why Dumbledore and Grindelwald are there. The rest just seem as if they're along for the ride.
Another issue I really had with the film was the way it broke the rules established in previous works concerning the Wizarding World. Rowling is, suffering from what I call and I'm sure I'm not alone in coining this phrase, "George Lucas Syndrome". In the original Star Wars films, George Lucas had a very well established world and characters but by the time we get to the prequels most of that is either altered, left out or replaced with something that's never seen in the originals and has really no explanation for why it no longer isn't there.
In the original Harry Potter books, Rowling states the rules of the Wizarding World over and over again in some cases. In particular, how no one can apparate in or outside of Hogwarts. A rule that is broken almost immediately in this film. Now, I am willing to let this pass but I need to know that Rowling will explain why the inability to apparate suddenly came to pass. This might seem like the gripe of a fanboy with too much free time but I think it's really more an issue of consistency and staying true to the story and universe you built.
I will end on a positive note. I thought the film was a triumph in one way over its predecessor and that was making a relatable villain. Tom Riddle or Lord Voldemort while terribly exciting is somewhat inaccessible emotionally. Which is intentional, he erased his humanity in his rise to power. Its fun and its creative as well as interesting but resonating with Voldemort is almost if not completely impossible.
On the other hand, Grindelwald is very compelling I think Rowling had a good idea in deciding to set the first film in the United States given its history with witchcraft and the Salem Witch Trials. I thought to myself, well that's interesting because Grindelwald has the potential to build a very believable following given the history of wizardry in the States. As an American, I can absolutely understand if I were a wizard why it might be tempting to side with someone like Grindelwald. Especially given how predominantly Christian this country remains.
So, when it comes to the character I already feel like I can resonate with Grindelwald as a human being. Grindelwald was motivated by the prospect of creating a world where wizardkind didn't have to live in hiding. Which is extremely compelling. Unlike Voldemort who is self-serving and attracts people either because they are extremely vindictive psychopaths or afraid to resist. Grindelwald attracts people appealing to a sense of imprisonment within themselves. He claims that he can liberate them from such a feeling. Now, granted he's misguided in his ways but its nonetheless a very human ambition.
I know that there was significant controversy surrounding the choice to cast Depp as Grindelwald but I for one think no one could do the role more justice than he. Depp is so compelling and captivated me so deeply in his performance that I left the theater begging for more.
All in all, I do believe that if you're hoping for the same type of masterful storytelling that Rowling delivered in the original series, you're going to be very disappointed. If you dislike cliche storytelling tropes, then you're also going to be quite let down. However, Depp alone makes up for the price of the ticket though no amount of great acting can compensate for a poorly crafted story. I will give the franchise the benefit of the doubt until its completed but I remain skeptical. I believe that the series can be saved but in order for it to be saved, it really should not be up to Rowling to do it.