Film Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (UK/USA, 2018) is a dark and shambolic affair

2016’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was the beginning of the expansion of the Harry Potter universe and an opportunity for fans to return to the wizarding world. It’s reception although somewhat mixed, was generally positive Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald is a jaunt back into the magical realm and where the first in this apparent five-part series had some fun and quite a few beasts, this film takes a decided turn into much darker territory and not quite as many interactions with the magical fauna.

After Gellert Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) capture at the end of Fantastic Beasts 1 and his subsequent thrilling escape in Fantastic Beasts 2, we travel to London and meet up with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his Auror brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner). Theseus wants Newt to help the Ministry of Magic find and destroy Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who survived the explosive events of New York. Unbeknownst to Theseus though, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) has recruited Newt to find Creedence, as a means of thwarting Grindelwald and his forthcoming plans of world wide domination.

David Yates returns for his sixth directorial installment in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe. This time, dropping our hero into some subterfuge and shenanigans that he’s rather uncomfortable with. There is a lot of foreboding and foreshadowing in this movie for things that are to come in forthcoming installments. So unlike say a midway point in a trilogy, we are still in a place of world-building and character-building. Which can be a little frustrating for those of us who would like a bit more cohesion and a better grasp as to what is coming. There are both old and new characters on show here, and the expanded ensemble means there’s plenty of added subplots. Some of these are enjoyable, whilst others feel a little more tacked on for fan service. And there’s also some weird glaring continuity errors, one involving Professor Minerva McGonagall and the other is very spoilery so only click if you want to be spoiled.

Newt is back, he’s still socially awkward and even though it’s never made canonically clear that he has autism or Asperger’s (correct me if I’m wrong!) they lean into those traits a bit too hard here. There’s no doubt that Redmayne is still adorable, endearing and sweet in the role, and here he gets to play a character that is more layered and nuanced. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) returns to continue the “will they, wont they” tussle of her relationship with Newt, but she doesn’t get much else to do other than attempt to follow Credence’s trail. The true lovers Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) who were the best thing about the first movie are also back, but they completely ruin this once wholesome pairing. There’s the introduction of Nagini (Claudia Kim) the maledictus (blood cursed) who transforms into a snake, she befriends Creedence, but she also has not much else to do. Miller’s Credence is also a little hamstrung, as he channels his best emo broodiness in his search for his real mother.

Probably the most interesting characters here are that of Grindelwald, Dumbledore and Zoe Kravitz’s Leta LeStrange. The former, becoming this alluring and captivating tyrannical wizard intent on ruling over the No-Maj Muggles (ie: people with no magic). Though I would’ve liked it more if they had stuck with Colin Farrell in the role, rather than Depp, and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

Law as Dumbledore is some genius casting though, with that twinkle in his eye, and penchant for speaking around a topic rather than direct. He channels the same charm and warmth that his predecessors Richard Harris and Michael Gambon displayed. There is also one distinct sequence with the Mirror of Erised that somewhat explicitly, but not quite loudly enough, toots the Dumbledore/Grindelwald queerness. In case you missed the memo, Dumbledore is gay, and so they had to make a point of it here. Kravitz’s LeStrange is by far the most mysterious and wondrous to watch, played with a constant hint of longing and melancholy, torn between Newt her schoolboy love, and his brother Theseus, whom she’s set to wed.

Where the Wizarding World universe has always excelled though is in its visual effects, and once again we’re treated to some really magnificent work. From the opening thrilling flying carriage escape by Grindelwald, or the Parisian circus sequence with its human shaped bubbles, or Nagini’s transformation into a snake, to the final battle sequence with Grindelwald conjuring up a wall of bright blue flames. Of course the beasts are always a treat too, with this film giving us the introduction of the Chinese lion-like Zouwu with its long red feathery silky tail, or the green whirly seaweed mess of a Kelpie. Whilst Pickett the Bowtruckle and the Niffler are both back for more mischief, it would’ve been nice to see more new beasts, given that they really are the titular characters.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald doesn’t have enough fantastic beasts, and only sort of alludes to the crimes of Grindelwald, so it’s definitely a misleading title. There are things to love and enjoy here, most of which are the visual effects and creatures and a couple of the characters and their performances. The hardcore Potterheads will probably get the most enjoyment out of this film (ignoring the continuity issues), but the more casual fans of the franchise might struggle with this darker shambolic affair.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald is out in Australian cinemas from 15 November 2018 through Roadshow Films and Warner Bros Pictures.

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