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Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald Review - Suffering Through The Phantom Menace-itis

November 15, 2018

 

 

J.K. Rowling has a tendency to play with her food; she doesn't know when to let a thing steep in its own juices. Whether announcing that Dumbledore was gay, or making a theatrical sequel by way of The Cursed Child, she's used places like Twitter and Pottermore to keep adding to the fabric of the Wizarding World. One of these post-Potter creations was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a fictional textbook written by Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist (think a young, magical Steve Irwin). Written for the charity Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts purported to be an in-universe textbook, used and owned by Harry Potter himself while at Hogwarts.

 

A fairly flimsy premise for a spin-off franchise, then. And as many feared, the first Fantastic Beasts did indeed suffer from the source material's lack of bones. Our hero Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne, came off as a slightly damp, mumbly, poor-man's spin on Matt Smith's incarnation of The Doctor. The world he populated took us not to Hogwarts (in Britain), but to New York, and the film very quickly devolved into a CGI-laced backwash of largely forgettable characters and completely forgettable beasts.

                                        (Photo courtesy of: Warner Brothers)

 

This time around, Rowling’s Wizarding World epic includes specific references to the Hogwarts universe that we already know and love, younger versions of the old characters, a return to hogwarts, and so in some ways has a more prequelised look, with hints of an origin myth. But as so often with fantasy adventure, the stormclouds are rolling in and the story is heavily weighted towards a titanic battle of good and evil. It is just as whimsical as the first film, with lovingly realised creatures, witty inventions and sprightly vignettes. But I couldn’t help feeling that the narrative pace was a little hampered, and that we are getting bogged down, just a bit, in a lot of new detail. 

                                         (Photo courtesy of: Warner Brothers)

 

Everything about The Crimes of Grindelwald is inward-looking and self-referential: it smacks of an epic join-the-dots game played across reams of unpublished appendices and footnotes. The result is one of the gravest cases of prequel-itis since my husband's favorite franchise's worst film in the series (arguably), The Phantom Menace, in which in place of ordinary storytelling, a chessboard’s-worth of characters and objects are fussily rearranged over the course of two hours plus change, in order to set the stage for whatever comes next.

 

What about Grindelwald though? Ah Grindelwald. As a villain, he had so much potential. His mismatched eyes have one brown and one white iris, and his soul is as cold as his yellow-white hair and pallor. He gathers his supporters at a rally that is both historical in its overt references to Nazism and eerily topical today. Yet Depp grandstands in one more gimmicky, costume-driven performance, with one more plummy accent. That routine grew tiresome many movies ago. Thankfully, the actor has limited time onscreen here. (Yates and Rowling have defended his casting in the wake of domestic abuse allegations, which Depp has denied; completely apart from that, he is no help to this film.)

                                        (Photo courtesy of: Warner Brothers)

 

As one secret is revealed, other mysteries pile up. Credence discovers the truth about his lineage, a revelation that may make you think, “Huh? They are from the same family?” But this new, improved sequel suggests that even when Rowling seems to have gone astray, before long she knows just what she’s doing.

 

 

Final verdict

2.5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 Review by Leanie Gari

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