Film review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Following the utterly enchanting Harry Potter film adaptations, the purported prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which focused on Ministry of Magic Zoologist and beast wrangler Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) was a disappointment. With a meandering plot, over-use of cgi and characters who ranged from unengaging to outright annoying, the film was confusing and dull. The sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald commits all the same sins but with more eardrum-shattering, eye ball-pummelling effects sequences and an even more confusing plot.

This film, like its predecessor, takes place in 1927. Here, notorious dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from a New York Ministry of Magic prison and sets about fomenting a quasi-fascist pure blood wizard uprising designed to eliminate or at least enslave non-magical humans or Muggles. Charged with stopping him is that magical Doctor Doolittle Newt Scamander. That scenario could have provided the basis for an exciting magical showdown but colliding with this narrative are an interminable number of sub-plots, flashbacks and bits of origin stories that not only bog down the story and deprive it of clear direction and momentum but even worse, leave it bereft of any charm or wonder.   Characters flit about from London to New York to Paris for only vaguely discernible reasons and many vanish from the screen for extended periods meaning they can’t establish any foothold in the story. The filmmakers might argue that as one of (gulp) five films in the Fantastic Beasts series it’s a stepping stone on a larger journey and can’t resolve plot points but that’s no excuse for over two hours of wayward story-telling.

Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald, who looks like a pallid Billy Idol with Marilyn Manson contact lenses, has a sliver of menace but only appears sporadically and apart from making a Hitler-esque speech, does very little.   Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is once again vaguely likeable but so insipid that he fails to give the franchise the strong centre it needs. The cavalcade of supporting characters might fulfil some function in the Potter folklore but they just make the story more convoluted and boring. Jude Law is promising, however, as the suave younger Albus Dumbledore. Oddly, he’s decked out in a Goldfinger-era James Bond, three-piece suit rather than the opium den robes of the Potter films.

Director David Yates, perhaps sensing that JK Rowling’s script made little sense, has opted for a procession of extravagant special effects set pieces. While technically remarkable, they’re mostly loud, grandiose, confusing and lacking genuine excitement or emotion. The exception is the opening sequence depicting Grindelwald’s escape which is set aboard a flying carriage and filmed as if the camera were on a roller coaster; this is by far the most exciting part of the movie. One of the problems with the action and effects sequences is that they often involve the creatures in Scamander’s menagerie most of which unfortunately look pretty silly.

Considerable attention has been paid to production design with intricate architecture and decoration but the effect has been diminished by drab, monochrome cinematography and excessive CGI which almost turns this into an animated film.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald may satisfy those willing to imbibe any cinematic realisation of the Potter mythology but for most people it will just be a confusing mess.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Fantasy/ adventure/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): David Yates.

Release date: 15th Nov 2018.

Running time: 133 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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