When the prequel films in the Harry Potter universe were first announced, fans of the novels and first eight movies were, for the most part, a combination of excited and nervous. Was this whole endeavor just a huge cash grab to suck more movie-going dollars from fans who love Harry Potter? Or would we be given engaging stories about the world we already knew and loved? The first Fantastic Beasts movie introduced us to a truly likable set of characters led by the charming Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist and author of the in-world book from which the movie gets its name. The lovable goofball Newt and his array of magical creatures won over skeptics of the new movie and gave audiences a hero to root for in the 1920s pre-Harry Potter setting. But the new film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, features so many sub-plots, twists, and backstories that Newt is unjustly booted to the side.
What made the first Fantastic Beasts movie a surprisingly fun romp was the camaraderie that developed between its four leads, Newt, Jacob (Dan Fogler), Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Tina (Katherine Waterston). Their differing personalities made for adult versions of our beloved Harry, Ron, and Hermione in various forms. Though Newt, as the lead of this series, is seen as its version of Harry, the two have some obvious differences. Mostly that, as an adult, and a Hufflepuff at that, Newt is calmer, more level-headed, and does things because they are right things to do. Additionally, Newt's beasts and his suitcase full of magical creatures brought us deeper into the magical world. The Harry Potter films had a dash of creatures here and there, but Beasts opened up a literal suitcase full of new environments and a ton more animals.
But sadly, The Crimes of Grindelwald lacks in both Newt and the magical beasts. Newt's storyline is stunted. He's dour, sad, and all of the glint in his eyes from the first movie feels gone. He's reluctant to join his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) to try and defeat Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), he mopes over both Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), and he angrily snaps at his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates) for what seems like no reason. This Newt is different, but it's not clear why.
As such, his prominence as the lead of this series comes into question, given that so much time is devoted to other sub-plots and story lines. Between Credence (Ezra Miller) and Nagini's (Claudia Kim) quest, Grindelwald and Dumbledore's (Jude Law) history, Queenie's questionable arc, Leta's dig into her family tree, and other various sidesteps, Newt feels lost among a crowd. Though I don't mourn the lack of Newt if it's going to be this moody, droopy version of the lively one we first met.
Sadly, The Crimes of Grindelwald also files away the magical creatures a bit into the archives. The first film introduced us to favorites like the bowtruckle and nifflers, and it also used the creatures more as helpful elements of the movie that actually aided in the advancement of the plot. For example, one of Newt's beasts actually has a hand in apprehending Percival Graves AKA Gellert Grindelwald, and the enormous Thunderbird Frank uses its abilities to help repair the city and obliviate muggle memories at the end.
The beasts in the sequel don't get much screen time, nor do they feature much in the actual developments of the plot. They feel like set-dressing than actual participants in the actions of the movie. Sure, a niffler does manage to swipe Grindelwald's necklace holding the blood pact he has with Dumbledore, and there's a cool scene with a giant seaweed-like monster, but Newt's beasts feel like an afterthought. There are few fantastic beasts in this Fantastic Beasts just as there are few actual crimes of Grindelwald in The Crimes of Grindelwald.
This drift away from Newt and his beasts feels like it was kind of inevitable, though. Making a five-film series out of a small book meant to be a companion to the tomes of the Harry Potter series definitely meant that some stretching was going to have to occur. As this series turns more toward the upcoming battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which according to the canon takes place in 1945, the movies will have to mold its plot points around making their way to that confrontation. It's not clear how much Newt or the creatures will factor into how the story develops, which makes me wonder how much the title is going to have to do with the story when we finally get to Fantastic Beasts 5.