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Review – Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald – “Far too convoluted”

Ten films into a franchise that Warner Bros. now calls the ‘Wizarding World’, arrives Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald, with muted fanfare. Unfortunately, the film begins with a close-up of Johnny Depp’s face (even larger than usual on the giant IMAX screen), as the titular villain in this latest outing for Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and team.

Minor spoilers ahead.

The plot is far too complex to adequately condense, but the gist is as follows: It is 1927 and bad wizard Gellert Grindelwald, imprisoned for numerous nameless crimes, escapes while being transferred. Meanwhile, Credence Clearwater Revival, sorry Barebone (Ezra Miller) has Snake Pliskined his way from New York to a hidden Parisian freakshow, where he teams up with Nagini (Claudia Kim) who looks very much like a beautiful woman and not a snake, for she is a Maledictus who will eventually not be able to turn back into her original form. Grindelwald has escaped in order to track down Credence and harness his huge power, while Credence is in France trying to discern his heritage. Both Young Dumbledore (Jude law) and the Ministry want Newt to help locate Credence (not sure why they want Newt, but go with it). And there’s more. Newt’s ex-crush, Auror Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) is now engaged to Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) which is awkward for everyone. Then Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) visit Newt (at his upgraded London digs) en route to seeing Tina (Katherine Waterston) in Paris, who is also trying to find Credence on behalf of the US ministry. Eventually, the whole gang converge in Paris (after a pitstop at Hogwarts) as Grindelwald points out how everyone is connected. Oh, and it is confirmed that Grindelwald and Dumbledore were once in looooove.

Alas, FB2 is a far less enjoyable watch than its predecessor. Partly because it is extremely hard to follow, relying on viewers recalling pertinent plot details from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which came out two years ago. Partly because this movie is very adult, casually referencing Nazism, child murder and white imperialism, none of which seems to sit well with a young-adult audience. The film could have benefited from fewer earnest speeches about the corruption of humanity and far more time with Newt and his fantastic beasts. We do get to meet a Kelpie and a Zouwu, and all time spent with a Niffler is time well-spent, it’s just a shame that Newt takes at least four Nifflers to Paris and we only get to see one have any fun! It is these creature set-pieces that look so good on-screen, and the use of colour and movement lends itself to the IMAX high-res projection format.

The cast is great, but so large that most are underused. Thank goodness that Redmayne takes this role as seriously as Shakespeare, he remains hugely likeable. Screenwriter J.K. Rowling is known to like things that come in threes, and it is the triumvirate of Redmayne, Kravitz and Law that make FB2 bearable. Kravitz is particularly good – nailing the accent in a way that few American actors can, imbuing Leta with glamour and mystery.

FB2 underserves Waterston, Kim, Fogler and William Nadylam (whose character Yusuf is also important to the plot) and on the Beyond Bechdel podcast we further explore FB2’s worst narrative tricks (like the inclusion of a nameless female Auror, who frequently appears in the background, has no lines and is ignored by the rest of the cast).

Then to top it all off, FB2 suddenly ends, in a poorly-conceived pastiche of The Empire Strikes Back, failing to provide us with any resolution. Instead, it weirdly ret-cons the relationships between wizarding family members and relegates the entirety of the film to a 2-hour trailer for the next instalment.

FB2 is a middling movie, being far too convoluted and lacking joie de vivre. I can only hope that the third film learns from these mistakes, and rises like a phoenix from its ashes, but I doubt it, as Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald seems here to stay.

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