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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Too Much Dumb, Not Enough Dumbledore"
2 stars

There is hardly a moment to be had in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald that is not suffused with some kind of magic. For the second installment of a five-film series set in the magical world created by J.K. Rowling and taking place decades before Harry Potter arrived on the scene, the filmmakers have pulled out all the stops and filled the screen with a countless array of visual treats that are so elaborately designed and executed that to even speculate about doing them as recently as a few years ago would have been dismissed as simply impossible. The problem with the film is that while magic, at least that of the technical variety, is in abundance, what is is perilously short supply is a recognizable sense of wonder and enchantment. Without those elements—the very things necessary to help viewers fully engage with a story of this type—the resulting film is little more than a surprisingly dour mess in which characters we care little about doing things that we can barely understand while fighting to be noticed amid the constant swarm of flashy but not especially memorable visual effects.

Once again set in the late 1920s, the film picks up pretty much where the previous installment, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016), left off with the golden-tongued and highly dangerous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in the custody of wizard authorities after being captured with the assistance of oddball magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Ah, but you cannot keep a good (or bad, as it were) dark wizard down (especially with a subtitle like the one this film has) and Grindelwald quickly escapes to Paris, where he sets up shop with a group of loyal henchmen (Kevin Guthrie , David Sakurai and Poppy Corby-Tuech, whose name contains more magic than the film itself) and begins stoking an uprising amongst magical types designed to shatter the truce between them and non-magical types and put them in the position of ruling everyone. (Yes, there are certain parallels between Grindelwald’s fear-mongering and the machinations of a certain resident of the White House and no, those parallels are not subtle at all.) The key element to Grindelwald’s plot is to track down Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a troubled young man with immense powers, and woo him to his side. Naturally, the wizarding forces want to prevent this from happening and so Newt is charged with finding Credence himself before it is too late.

The problem, at least for those of us in the audiences, is that since this is only the second part of a five-part saga, it is a certainty that very little of the story being told is going to be resolved at this point. As a result, screenwriter Rowling throws a whole lot of side stories populated by an army of supporting characters into the mix in order to keep viewers from noticing that precious little is actually going on in terms of the main narrative. Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), the human-wizard couple that supplied some of the most enchanting moments in the first installment as we watched the development of their illicit relationship, turn up early on and then inexplicably break up, leaving Jacob mooning about and the irrepressible Queenie contemplating joining the dark side. Then there is the romantic tension between Newt and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), a former classmate who clearly still has a thing for Newt even though she is engaged to marry his straight-arrow brother Theseus (Callum Turner). Newt barely notices this because he is still besotted with aurora Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who fled after reading an incorrect newspaper story claiming that Newt and Leta were engaged. There are also appearances by the hardy young Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), a friend of Newt’s who recruits him for the mission to save Credence from Grindelwald and who turns out to have deeply personal reasons for doing so.

This is a lot of stuff to process—and there is plenty that I have left out to boot—and at certain point, even Rowling obsessives may find themselves overwhelmed by everything being thrown their way. Obviously, the “Harry Potter” films were just as crammed with characters and incidents but those films did such a brilliant job of setting up their universe and the characters populating it that even those viewers who did not understand the meaning of every single spell or recognize every obscure reference could still easily grasp what was going on at any time. Here, on the other hand, director David Yates (who did both the previous “Fantastic Beasts” film as well as the last four entries in the Harry Potter franchise) never quite makes manages to make the world seen here at all convincing. Instead of being fully immersed in both the world and the storyline, we are always being kept at arms lengths while being jerked around by the machinations of the increasingly tiresome plot. Even worse, the film is surprisingly dark and dour and there are only rare moments of humor and lightness on display. Yeah, the Potter films got pretty bleak too but they had moments of levity and, more importantly, they truly earned those darker moments thanks to the the effective ways in which they carefully nurtured and developed both the increasingly complex narrative and characters.The only time that the film seems to both slow down for a moment and lighten up is a brief return to Hogwarts and it proves to be one of the few truly effective scenes to be had.

Another key difference between the “Fantastic Beasts” film and their predecessors is that the “Harry Potter” films had strong, fully fleshed-out and instantly recognizable characters who grew and evolved in fascinating and unexpected ways that were then filled beautifully with a group of brilliant unknowns in the younger roles and the cream of British Equity in the adult parts. (Even the unabashedly nasty characters were usually drawn in ways that ensured that they had more than one dimension.) By comparison, the characters in “Fantastic Beasts” are just not that interesting—the film even seems to be tacitly suggesting it by the way that it keeps shoving its central character to the side to make room for others—and the actors, with a couple of exceptions, fail to liven things up. At this point, Newt is still more of a collection of quirks than a believable character and Redmayne has yet to figure out a way to connect with the role in order to make him even remotely interesting. Likewise, Grindelwald is kind of a letdown as the narratives Big Bad and while I suppose that it is a relief that Depp has chosen to underplay him rather than go full-tilt crazy, I have a sneaky suspicion that playing a megalomaniacal wizard with designs for world domination is not quite the right time for an actor of his sort to go minimalist. Most of the others just march through the proceedings as if they are not entirely sure of what they are supposed to be saying or doing at any given moment (the terribly stiff Waterston is the chief offender in this respect). The only performances that really click here are the ones given by Kravitz, whose striking presence helps to rescue any number of scenes from pure banality, and Law, whose delightful turn as Dumbledore suggests that he is the only person involved with the film who appears to actually be having fun.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is by far the weakest film to emerge from the extended Harry Potter screen universe to date—a dark and cheerless oddity that doesn’t have much to say or do and takes an awful long time to do it. Devoted Potter buffs may get more of a kick out of it than I did but I cannot imagine them embracing it in the same way that they did “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), the first entry in the series that worked as an honest-to-goodness movie and not just as a book translation. Of course, that was the third film in that series so perhaps there is a chance that, having gotten through the process of setting things up, the next “Fantastic Beasts” film may similarly find itself as well. If not, even those fans may find themselves quickly running out of patience with this particular story and moving on to other and better things.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31486&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/15/18 09:31:02
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User Comments

4/04/19 KingNeutron Just a collection of incomprehensible, loosely slapped-together scenes. Disappointing 2 stars
3/14/19 James Queerbugger Its a shame that pathetic British actors had to besmirch great American special effects. 1 stars
12/10/18 teddy crescendo This movie really is atrocious trash of the lowest order. 1 stars
11/15/18 Louise Harry Potter was garbage and so is this rubbish ! ! !. 1 stars
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  16-Nov-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2019


  DVD: 12-Mar-2019

Directed by
  David Yates

Written by
  J.K. Rowling

  Eddie Redmayne
  Katherine Waterston
  Johnny Depp
  Jude Law
  Dan Fogler
  Ezra Miller
  Zoe Kravitz

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