“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”
Directed by David Yates
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Katherine Waterston
It was inevitable that the enormously successful “Harry Potter” film series would continue even after Harry, Ron and Hermoine moved on from Hogwarts, and so it did with 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” This prequel, set decades before the events of the first “Potter” entry, was a flawed but intriguing creation scripted by J. K. Rowling herself.
For all its joys, however, the tone was pitch-black, the characters less involving than Harry and his friends, and the storyline rather unmemorable. That means a lot is riding on the new sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Sadly, the film is a dud — the first real miss of the 10-film saga.
Bad reviews won’t keep little muggles away from cinemas. But perhaps it should, at least if they are younger than 10 or so.
The second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World continues the adventures of magizoologist-author Newt Scamander (an awkward Eddie Redmayne). This time, he is sent by Hogwarts legend Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, of course) to help prevent murderous wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) rise to power.
The jumbled narrative is a major issue, but so, too, is the PG-13 film’s unrelenting darkness. Within the first 15 minutes of “Crimes,” an infant is killed (off-screen), the first of two upsetting child deaths. There are some genuinely scary beasts (as well as some adorable ones), a rather brutal killing of a kindly older woman, a cadaverous Depp, and then some strained references to some of the most horrific events of the World War II era.
The presence of Depp here has been the cause of some controversy. Whatever one’s opinion on Depp the man, Depp the actor has very little to do here. Grindelwald is barely present onscreen, meaning his plan carries no dramatic weight.
The same is true of Law, whose role amounts to little more than a cameo. Clearly, “Crimes” is all about world-building, and setting the stage for films three through five (!). This is a foolish decision from all concerned, and makes for a wholly unsatisfying experience. While it’s not quite a franchise-killer, it comes pretty darn close.
As expected, Redmayne is fine as the shy but decisive Newt Scamander, and so too are returning actors Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, and Ezra Miller. Interestingly, the new addition with the greatest impact is not Law or Depp (whose Grindelwald appeared near the end of the first “Beasts” film). Instead, the most welcome new performance here comes from Zoë Kravitz, whose Leta Lestrange is the most affecting character onscreen. Quite simply, the moments spent with Kravitz are the only instances that feel fresh.
Did I mention that “Grindelwald” is ridiculously dull? The film is slower than a disgruntled house-elf, bursting with exposition and lengthy sequences in which characters explain the plot in detail. That being said … there are some moments of genuine magic, and the film saves a twist for its final scene. And if you make it that far, there’s a good chance that this reveal will be enough to get you interested in part three. Just when you think you’re out, Rowling pulls you back in.