We travel to Hogwarts in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” and that little stopover will doubtless buoy the spirits of the “Harry Potter” faithful.
It’s not enough to save this movie, however. Part Two of J.K. Rowling’s latest franchise is a bewildering bummer, a real misstep by this generally sure-footed storyteller.
Like the Potter films, this one demands you remember everything about the previous action—no recap here. But even if you recall the characters and their situation, you might scratch your head about some of the mystifying events on display.
Our wizarding pal Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, even twitchier than before) is enlisted by a Hogwarts professor by the name of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to go to Paris and save the world. Or, at least, to stop the escaped wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), our designated villain.
This is part of the film’s confusion. Clearly, Grindelwald is bad—his crimes are mentioned in the title, and he talks about using non-magic people as “beasts of burden,” and he’s played by Johnny Depp. On the other hand, he wants equal rights for the exploited magic community and he correctly forecasts World War II.
Depp has a good opening sequence, as he commandeers a flying stagecoach in a lightning storm. Otherwise, except for one signature Johnny Depp villain move (taking a bong hit from a human skull and producing a light show from the ensuing smoke), he doesn’t get a chance to indulge in the kind of Deppian eccentricities that might have livened things up.
Everybody talks about the mysterious Credence (Ezra Miller), whose powers are mighty. There are some illuminating flashbacks about Credence’s life, but this character is never around enough to matter.
Surely he’d be a more interesting central character than Newt—or at least he deserves an equal amount of screen time. Instead, the film spins its wheels by dragging in characters from 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (played by Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Zoe Kravitz, and Alison Sudol) for very little value.
Rowling wrote the script, and “Harry Potter” regular David Yates directs. Maybe this series could use a little outside intervention—everybody’s so immersed in the wizarding world they don’t always explain what the heck is going on.
“Crimes of Grindelwald” is also guilty of spending too much of its 134-minute running time setting up future chapters. Sure, Credence is a cipher now, but trust us, folks, in the next three sequels he’s going to be awesome.
He’d better be. The assumption that we’re going to stick around until 2024 just to get the payoff is asking a lot. This isn’t really a movie—it’s a placeholder that exploits the “Harry Potter” audience’s goodwill.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (1.5 stars)
The second installment in J.K. Rowling’s latest franchise is a bewildering bummer, a real misstep by the “Harry Potter” creator. Far too much of the action is place-setting for future sequels, and even bringing in Dumbledore (Jude Law) can’t summon up the magic. With Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
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