The first “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” showed so much promise.
The film crafted a dark, edgy, jazzy world of magic populated by actual adults who showed the power of gentleness and understanding when it came to taming beasties both animal and human alike. And yet, the sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” manages to be both messy and pointless. We’ve got the same writer (J.K. Rowling, who penned the “Harry Potter” series, from which sprang the “Fantastic Beasts” universe) and the same director (David Yates, who directed the last four “Potter” films). So where did it all go wrong? Was everyone just phoning it in?
The problem with “Fantastic Beasts: This Title is Entirely Too Long” is it’s fussily complicated with too many characters and too many flashbacks, but by the end of the two hours and 15 minutes, you realize no one – truly not a single character – has accomplished anything in this movie at all. Not a single hero, not a single villain has affected change. The magical platypus does do something significant, but that is it.
The sweetness of the first film was a balm in November 2016, when we needed a hero who was empathetic and did the right thing because it was right, not for power or popularity. The notion of radical acceptance for all creatures great and small was deeply trenchant.
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The political comparisons have been extended, a bit obviously so, in “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” where Johnny Depp, in a blond coif, plays wizard fascist Grindelwald, who has a penchant for rallies to spout his cause of pureblood power. He touts “freedom” and “truth” as his goal, but truthfully, he just wants the freedom to kill non-magic folks, or so other characters keep saying.
So our hero, the creature wrangler Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and his pals scurry around trying to stop Grindelwald, who wants to exploit pesky, uncontrollable Credence (Ezra Miller), who turns into an apocalyptic cloud of dust when he’s angry, because of child abuse.
Credence just wants to know who his birth parents are and escape the magical circus, so Newt and Tina (Katherine Waterston) set to the task of uncovering his parentage, pausing to awkwardly unpack their romantic relationship every so often. Also, for some meaningless reason, muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler) and his witch love Queenie (Alison Sudol) are back, possibly because they were the most entertaining part of the first movie.
Meanwhile, Newt’s old Hogwarts crush Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), are engaged to be married, and in pursuit of Newt, who is traveling internationally without a passport. Theseus is also a wizard cop trying to take down the Grindelwald gang, which he and the other magic police are very bad at.
I haven’t even mentioned that Jude Law plays young Dumbledore, and there are not one but two scenes where babies are murdered. This may sound like a lot, but amazingly, none of this has any consequence on whatever the story is. Most of the exposition is expressed in long speeches, and coupled with the dim, dull visuals, the movie could not be less interesting.
That, in itself, is a crime.
‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.