Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/24/18
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Claudia Kim

Picking up where the first film left off, the evil sorcerer Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes prison and heads to Paris in search of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who he believes holds the key to bringing about his plans for world domination. Naturally, the Ministry Of Magic doesn't want this to happen, so they reach out to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find him first. Newt finds the terms of the arrangement unacceptable, so he refuses, but his old teacher Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) convinces him to do it covertly. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is also looking for Credence, and a misunderstanding causes a rift between her and Newt. Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) add to the confusion when they visit Newt out of the blue and then have a falling out. All of the various players eventually come together at a Grindelwald rally in a Parisian graveyard, where secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested, love is confessed, and lots of people die. With Grindelwald's power continuing to grow, what's next for our magical heroes?

It's always fun to revisit J.K. Rowling's wizarding world and the film is definitely full of spectacle, but the plot is aimless and the blatant fan service reeks of desperation. Eddie Redmayne gives a wonderful performance as Newt, although he's not nearly as awkward as before and his wardrobe is far more contemporary (no more funky period shoes!). Whereas he was a loner and social outcast in the first film, this time he's presented as a sex object, and at least three women are madly in love with him. I found that to be out of character and in bad taste. Dan Fogler once again provides a warm human touch, but his role seems overly contrived and he has little to do except prepare for the upcoming sequels. Jude Law makes a charming young Dumbledore, while Johnny Depp makes an appropriately menacing villain. The film amps up the sex appeal considerably this time around with Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and Nagini (Claudia Kim), who look ravishing in their fancy outfits and scandalously plunging necklines.

The visual effects are quite dazzling, but overall the film feels tedious and the pacing is sluggish. Similar to the Harry Potter films, the constant barrage of flashbacks, name-dropping, and lore left me confused and I had a difficult time following what was going on. As a result, I had trouble finding an emotional connection with the story and the players. The music score is good, but it's a bit overpowering and tends to drown out the action sequences, as if the filmmakers weren't confident that they could stand on their own. The action scenes are also frantic and difficult to follow, which forces the viewer to tune out after a while. As a bridge episode, the film succeeds in offering up an enjoyable dose of imagination and magical mayhem, but the filmmakers are going to have to come up with a better formula and more engaging characters in order to keep the series fresh and interesting.