Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The extended Harry Potter universe wears a bit thin with a bloated sequel

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Fantastická zvířata: Grindelwaldovy zločiny)
Directed by David Yates
With Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie

The Wizarding World hits a low point with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Both were directed by David Yates and had screenplays by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.

The main drawback is that the new film starts nowhere and goes nowhere. It is picks up directly after the previous film and serves to set up the next installment. If you don’t fully remember what happened in the previous film — which ironically ended with many characters losing their memories — you will be a bit at sea. And the film’s conclusion doesn’t resolve anything, nor does it leave us with an exciting cliffhanger.

The story, which takes place in the 1920s mainly in London and Paris, tries to get political by drawing parallels to the rise of fascism then and now. Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) is dividing the Wizarding community and preaching xenophobic policies to the wizarding masses, making wild promises about a future with them in charge. People won’t be able to remain neutral, as that is tacitly supporting fascism by doing nothing.

Everyone will have to pick a side.

But a truly odd aspect of the film has some of those attempting to fight Grindelwald seeming almost as bad in their own blind devotion.

The story moves slowly, with lots of CGI-driven scenes that while spectacular do little to move the plot. Some of new beasts including a giant Chinese dragon are quite spectacular.

A real drag on the film is that Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is the main focus, and the character is painfully shy, given to long silences a staring at the ground.

He gets some support from the more colorful New York baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who randomly turn up rather late in the film. But the magic of their relationship, if you will, is a little dulled from the previous episode.

There is also a hint of romance, with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) returning but rather upset over some sort of misunderstanding. But much more needed to be done to develop these human aspects.

Another underutilized aspect includes a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who links these films to the Harry Potter series. But he has just a few scenes and for obscure reasons is rather ineffectual.

The more personal elements of the plot, though, get truly overwhelmed by the massive digital effects, with, as the title promises, magical beasts as well as walls of colored flames and gravity-defying stunts.

The film’s successes are all in the technical side. The costumes, hairstyles and makeup all truly evoke the glamour of the 1920s. The locations related to wizarding have an eye-catching steampunk look and are amazing when the various normally inanimate parts move by themselves.

But the feeling that this installment was just made to cash in on the success of the series in inescapable.

All of the real plot action could have been summed up in a 10-minute sequence at the start of the next installment.

The recent Avengers: Infinity War, in the Marvel universe, also picked up action in the middle and served to set up a big conclusion. But it created a lot more tension by having several big surprises and CGI scenes that were more than just filler to pad out the running time. The dialogue was also sharp and witty, making the characters memorable.
J. K. Rowling’s script relies too much on her made-up magical mumbo-jumbo, and lacks a sense of humor to make the characters come to life.

Even though the stakes are high, the viewer is left out in the cold without enough reason to care which side wins.

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