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Grindelwald and his menacing band of men seek to enslave the Muggle world. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (12A)
Running time 2hr 14min
Rating **

EACH successive Harry Potter release drastically expanded the franchise’s narrative and thematic scope. Few of those films can be termed ‘duds’ in the strictest sense of the word (after all, Warner Bros’ bank account speaks for itself), but some of the magic was inevitably lost in the process – as the series took a plunge into real grit and darkness around episode 4 (that would be the one with the scary maze and a young Robert Pattinson), the unmistakable air of Yuletide nostalgia which had drawn millions of young fans to prior outings was suddenly lost, snuffed out, replaced with the visual wizardry and world-
building sophistication for which JK Rowling’s global phenomenon is best remembered.

The breathtaking success of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might be attributed to a number of factors, but this critic believes its greatest triumph was in evoking the spirit of the first few Potter flicks – here was a spin-off (a cash-in, even) liberated of the dead weight of its predecessors’ staggering legacy, a truly unique vision permitted to flourish on its own terms. There was something boundlessly fresh and effervescent about it; watching the madcap, Prohibition-era adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) unfold, it felt as if we’d been thrust once again into the Chamber of Secrets for another helping of sorcery and juvenile derring-do.

In the case of this sequel, that optimism is nowhere to be found. It’s a film brimming with its forerunner’s CGI brilliance and its knack for tight, spectacular set- pieces, but lacking anything in the way of its spirit, vigour and promise – in other words, everything that made Fantastic Beasts worth talking about in the first place. It was always clear that this slight, rollicking story arc was bound to feed into JK Rowling’s wider epic sooner or later, yet The Crimes of Grindelwald is rarely content to let this transition play out with anything akin to seamlessness or grace. Early on, the arrival of Jude Law’s Albus Dumbledore warns of the full-on exposition-fest to come, though Law’s splendid performance goes some way in redeeming a narrative which is already beginning to spin wildly out of control. Where many might have struggled to make the connection between this dashing Hogwarts hunk and his older, beardier incarnation, the Sherlock Holmes star is always one step ahead of the screenplay in effortlessly filling in the gaps. It can’t be hard to step into such an illustrious figure’s boots, but Law effectively makes the character his own.

Elsewhere, chaos reigns. The plot is typically Rowlingian, as the evil Grindelwald and his merry band of menaces seek to enslave the Muggle world; Dumbledore, an old acquaintance of the former, enlists Scamander to put a stop to these schemes. A dense mass of subplots and supporting characters threaten to crush the film beneath their collective weight; many exist solely to tie Fantastic Beasts into the Potterverse (we are treated to long, perplexing flashbacks to Scamander’s days at Hogwarts), but one assumes they’ll largely fail to excite the curiosity of even hardened fans. A script that’s heavy on detail and low on raw storytelling vigour invests in the talented Ezra Miller a most underwhelming role – the idea is ‘Sinister, Nihilistic Force of Darkness’ but the effect is more ‘Sulky, Bitter Adolescent’, as his troubled, troublingly-named Credence Barebone mopes from one mystifying scene to the next. Johnny Depp, despite being given all the best action sequences, does little more than grimace – having teased of wrath and malice in the last film, he emerges here as little more than a pound shop Voldemort. Redmayne still makes for a likeable screen presence, but suffers as a consequence of the movie’s woeful lack of focus. More than anything, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an utterly flavourless instalment in a series which, for all the hitches and snags along the way, has rarely delivered anything but lore-crafting sumptuousness. Perhaps Part Tres will redeem the trilogy. The beasts, for the meanwhile, feel much less fantastic than they once did.

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