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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Finding Credence

This sequel to the successful Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them picks up in 1927, not too long after where the original left off. The villainous Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) manages to escape from the custody of the Magical Congress of the United States of America with the help of Abernathy (Kevin Guthrie) who has defected to his side.

Grindelwald, with followers on tow, relocates to Paris in order to track down and seduce Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the young descendant of a magical bloodline who is thought to be the only wizard with the capabilities to defeat Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Meanwhile, Dumbledore himself is keen on locating Credence so he decides to enlist the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). It turns out that Newt’s companion from the last film, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is also on Credence’s trail.

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This dreary sequel does very little with its many elements

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a decently entertaining J. K. Rowling-penned fantasy, albeit with one major shortcoming: it spent so much of its runtime world-building and introducing numerous characters, creatures and locations that there was little room for an actual plot. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has the same issues but multiplies them to the point of befuddlement and subtracts most of the sense of fun in the process.

There are so many elements and twists thrown in here and yet so little of interest is actually done with them in terms of plotting, character development or action. Newt has a brother named Theseus (Callum Turner) who is in love with the former’s childhood friend from Hogwarts named Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz). However, Theseus is pretty superfluous to the overall story (or rather, lack of story) and Leta is only really relevant or interesting during a climactic revelation. While Newt is revealed to be in love with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), this would-be romantic subplot is only developed by one baby step before being forgotten about. While Ezra Miller’s Credence is established as an Anakin Skywalker-style figure, let’s just say that he comes across as being so blandly anonymous that one actually pines for Hayden Christensen’s charisma-free acting and dull delivery from the Star Wars prequels. Claudia Kim, playing his onscreen girlfriend Nagini, is given virtually nothing to do beyond clinging to his arm through much of the runtime. There are flashbacks to a close (possibly homosexual) relationship between the younger incarnations of Dumbledore and Grindelwald but this never pays off with any dramatic confrontation between the two.

Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

There’s a lot more dialogue here than there is action. Moreover, most of it falls into dreary confusion because, beyond a couple of nice scenes with Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski and Alison Sudol as his lover Queenie, there’s little sense of any connection or chemistry in the relationships between the characters. Johnny Depp fares best amongst the cast, effectively maximising his undeniable creepy side as the main antagonist. However, once again (at the risk of sounding like a broken record), his character never really does that much beyond killing a handful of mostly marginal characters and drawing various acolytes to his side. By the standards of a villain of his supposed stature, these “crimes” aren’t awe-inspiring achievements by any stretch.

One would at least hope that the visual flair and imagination which graced the first Fantastic Beasts film were present here. Yes, there’s some wonderful, expansive-looking production design courtesy of Stuart Craig (who has worked continuously on the Harry Potter cinematic universe since its 2001 inception). While there aren’t quite as many of those delightfully imaginative setpieces as there were in its predecessor, we still get a handful of nice moments such as a travelling circus disassembling itself to fit into a tiny suitcase, and an attack by ferocious cat-like guardians which seem to have leapt, claws unfurled, from the pages of a comic book. Sadly, these intermittent baubles of eye candy are heavily drowned out by the kind of joyless, brown-grey visual palette which recently made Solo: A Star Wars Story such an enthusiasm-dampening affair. My other pet peeve, the over-edited action sequence shot in murky blackness, also rears its ugly head during the opening Grindelwald flying coach escape. How can the viewer be excitedly invested in a scene when they can barely make out what’s going on?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald seems to be trying so hard to be part of a larger story arc that it ends up having so little to offer the casual viewer in its own right. While it is conceivable that dedicated J. K. Rowling aficionados will lap it up anyway, others will most likely concur that Flaccid Bores: The Criminal Underuse of Grindelwald would be a more appropriate title.

Runtime: 134 mins

Dir: David Yates

Script: J. K. Rowling

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

Rating: ☆☆

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