Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
The highly expository follow-up to the energetic and entertaining “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” may likely force the viewer to wonder if the series has enough fuel to stretch its arms across three more pictures. At its worst, for a story that offers magic, a wealth of imagination, strange-looking creatures, it is talkative but uninformative. For long periods during the middle, nothing much of value happens; I caught myself checking my watch a few times. I considered if author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling ought to have allowed someone else to translate her work through a cinematic medium. What results is a ponderous picture that lacks the power to capture the curiosity of both children and children-at-heart, a quality that seems to come so naturally to the “Harry Potter” movies.
As a sequel that strives to expand its world-building, the material offers a group of new potentially interesting characters. The first that comes to mind is Theseus Scamander, played by Callum Turner, brother of our protagonist who is played by Eddie Redmayne. This character is engaged to be married to Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), former schoolmate of our quirky magizoologist. Newt and Leta seems to share a special, possibly even a romantic connection, and it would have been an interesting avenue to explore had Theseus been a fully developed character. In addition, Newt feeling insecure whenever his “normal” brother is around is hinted at but never explored. Instead, the siblings are reduced to giving each other hugs. Another possible interesting personality that may have been worth looking into is the alchemist Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) whose name should be familiar to fans of the magical series. Instead, there are jokes about him being old.
Delivering top-notch special and visual effects is clearly the film’s forté. Particularly impressive is the sequence involving Newt and Jacob (Dan Fogler), the latter lacking magical ability, attempting to track down the whereabouts of an Auror (Katherine Waterston). A spell is cast to retrace the literal steps of their target in addition to the circumstances surrounding this person. The fact that the scene is executed in a calm manner is solid choice because it builds tension. Another example of ace visuals, but of feverish approach, is the opening scene involving the villainous Grindelwald (Johnny Deep) executing a daring escape in the sky as a storm rages on. It takes place at night and it is hard to see in the rain. And yet—we have a complete idea of the events unfolding. The technical mastery of the action scenes cannot be denied. The camera is so alive and the editing is willing to match the beat of the wild dance exploding on screen.
The problem is, when the action dies down, so does the film to an extent. It comes alive somewhat during flashbacks of young Newt and Leta attending Hogwarts. I loved learning about them, especially in how they felt like outcasts as students. This feeling did not disappear as they became adults. It evolved and, in a way, their experiences in Hogwarts stuck with them and helped to shape who they are. It is these moments that “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” directed by David Yates, manages to capture the essence of Rowling’s excellent Potter series. The human drama creates more intrigue than the politics—just as exploring Harry and his friends’ relationships is more interesting than having to defeat Voldermort.
Despite its shortcomings, I remain interested in what is going to happen. There is a surprising revelation during the closing minutes involving Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and his quest for discovering his biological connections. It is about time that this character moves to the center because he has been running around since the predecessor with little progress, if any. He is beginning to feel like decoration. This, too, can be attributed to the screenplay: it lacks efficiency and urgency. Things that can be accomplished in five minutes are stretched to fifteen. Clearly, a film is not a novel, vice-versa. Given that this series will only grow larger in scope and ambition, I hope that a more effective screenwriter will be taken aboard.