Review Date: 4/23/22
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, Mads Mikkelsen, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston
"Dangerous times favor dangerous people."
It's been four years since the last "Fantastic Beasts" movie, and I had no recollection of what had previously happened. Thankfully, the immensely charming Professor Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams) gives a laughably condensed and comprehensive recap to get the audience back up to speed. The sinister, fascist, and megalomaniacal Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen replacing Johnny Depp) is absolved of his crimes and makes a bid to rule the Wizarding World and go to war against the Muggles. And much like a certain Republican ex-president, despite his complete awfulness he has an army of deluded brainwashed followers whose shear numbers could make it happen. Unfortunately (or not), due to a lover's pact, Grindelwald can't go after Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) directly, so he grooms the emotionally unstable Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) to kill him. Similarly, Dumbledore can't directly defy Grindelwald, so he recruits Newt (Eddie Redmayne), Prof. Hicks, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), and some other wizard to do his dirty work for him. Our heroes narrowly save the day and earn a brief moment of rest and happiness, while evil retreats into the darkness to regroup. While still open-ended, the film wraps up this story arc quite nicely, but poor box office performance and J.K. Rowling's decreased popularity leaves the future of the franchise uncertain.
It's a slick, polished, and gorgeous film, but it's long, slow, and utterly joyless. That said, all of the Harry Potter films have been grim, bleak, and full of gloom and doom, but this one feels oppressively hopeless and dreary. The thinly veiled analogies to Donald Trump and the 2020 U.S. presidential election are triggers that reopen all-too-recent wounds, and serve as a reminder that treacherous Republicans and other scum-sucking bottom feeders threaten to attack from the shadows at any moment. It's not a bad film, but with all of the shit that's going on in the world today, this movie hits a little too close to home and I'm craving more lighthearted and less politically charged entertainment these days. This is also the first movie I've seen that included a "Covid Compliance Unit" in the credits.
The performances are fantastic, even if the characters and beasts are less so. Jude Law is wonderful as the heavy-hearted Dumbledore and elevates the film considerably. Eddie Redmayne once again shines as Newt Scamander, although his role seems diminished this time around. Dan Fogler continues to be the heart of the franchise, and brings humanity and warmth to the otherwise cold surroundings. Jessica Williams is gorgeous and spellbinding, while Callum Turner adds charm and class to the proceedings. Playing a cruel and egotistical villain isn't a stretch for Mads Mikkelsen, but he looks bored and disinterested in his role. But perhaps that's the point since Grindelwald looks down on everything and everyone. He's the Magneto to Law's Xavier. The music is excellent and evokes the magic of the earlier Harry Potter films, while numerous references to those films attempt to hook the audience with nostalgia. The pacing stumbles, and the bombastic action pieces feel forced and out of place. The film is tonally consistent with the previous entries, but the magic is fading and audiences are becoming less enchanted with the franchise. It will be interesting to see if Warner Brothers greenlights the final two movies in the series, and if they can rekindle its lost sense of wonder.