Pubic wand-waver Harry Potter and his magical mates may have hung up their cloaks in 2011, but that hasn’t kept J.K. Rowling and her Wizarding World away from the big screen. 2016’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them saw the start of a new spinoff franchise, which acts as a semi-prequel to the Potter films; and while many were quick to dismiss the film as a cynical attempt to clutch onto the purse strings of Potterheads, the first instalment in a planned five-movie series was something of a pleasant surprise. With franchise veteran David Yates back in the director’s chair, the second chapter in this new series – which sees Hogwarts professor Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlist the help of his former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find troubled orphan Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) in order to foil the Magneto-pilfered agenda of evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) – seemed primed to deliver some more magic. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, as Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald is significantly more beastly than fantastic.
There are some interesting moments sprinkled here and there, some of which will delight die-hard fans. But casuals and Muggles, be warned: if you’re not au fait with minor characters from the original books or the previous film, or even adequately clued-up on the family tree of the Lestrange family, there’s every chance you’ll drown in a sea of convoluted backstories and exposition-heavy plotting. The tantalising world-building Rowling has become renowned for is here in spades and the Parisian setting provides some lovely flourishes; it just doesn’t serve a compelling plot, with a multitude of characters dashing from one set piece to another for no other reason than budget-bragging. The cast are all game and for the most part do quite well. However, even this element proves problematic, since none of the returning characters are fleshed out in any meaningful way. As for those aching to see a Law’s young Dumbledore and Depp’s Grindelwald face off (or even their much-talked about homosexual relationship getting some development), temper those expectations, as the pair have relatively minor parts. This relative lack of screen time is all the more baffling in Depp’s case as he has titular billing and, come to think of it, his crimes aren’t addressed either.
The script is unnecessarily keen to cram in as many characters and as much mythologising as humanly possible, seemingly in a mad rush to get to the next film. This leaves you with the overriding feeling that a sense of wonder has been lost in a chapter that’s a mere placeholder for greater things to come. And come they might… But on the evidence of this bloated, frequently exhausting and undoubtedly critic-proof Part Deux, you can’t help but think that Warner Brothers’ five-part saga is already starting to feel somewhat overstretched. What ever happened to a good old trilogy?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald | Directed by David Yates (UK, US, 2018), with Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston. Starts November 15.
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