The only magic in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is that, through some miracle, I wasn’t forced to go to the bathroom during its egregiously long 134-minute running time. Other than that, it’s more or less what you’d expect — an uninspired cash grab that only exists to bleed the wallets of Harry Potter fans and unsuspecting critics. If you liked the first Fantastic Beasts, you may find the sequel relatively unobjectionable. If you didn’t see the first Fantastic Beasts, good luck figuring out what the hell’s going on here.
This time around, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is tasked by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) with taking down the nefarious Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who has some sort of plan for recruiting disaffected orphan wizard Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). If you hadn’t figured it out from the title, you can tell Grindelwald is evil because he’s an albino with David Bowie eyes (as with most things in this film, the plotting is blunt and the characterization nonexistent). Anyway, it doesn’t much matter what Grindelwald’s plan really entails, because it’s not going to pay off until the next movie. Franchise building, everybody!
Beasts scores some points by virtue of its prodigious budget, which allows for some pretty impressive effects work and some visually engaging set pieces. But that whiz-bang wow factor only goes so far when your narrative plays like little more than a two-hour trailer for the next film and your characters are about as emotionally resonant as the enchanted suitcase that drives much of the plot. It doesn’t help matters that the J.K. Rowling’s script exposits in all the wrong places, setting up plotlines for the next film while failing to give us a reason to care about what happens in this one.
In concurrence with my opinions on the prior film, this installment of Fantastic Beasts benefits from its period setting. Unlike director David Yates’ last outing in the Wizarding World, however, Grindelwald’s Paris setting lacks the specificity of the previous movie’s New York. There’s an anonymity to the geography that persists despite the arbitrary insertion of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, and as a result, the film feels less well-considered than its antecedent. Still, the magic battles look pretty cool if you don’t care why they’re happening.
So, should you see The Crimes of Grindelwald? I don’t know. Do you want to find out what Johnny Depp did with his contacts from Black Mass? If you’re absolutely hellbent on getting some more Potter in your life, I guess this is your best bet — but why anyone would feel the need to beat this particular dead horse is beyond me. I guess there’s still money to be milked from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, so I’ll presumably be here in a couple of years complaining about the same paper-thin characters and talking about budgets and foreign box office and whatnot. Perhaps that’s the true crime of Grindelwald — no matter how bad these movies get, somebody’s going to pay to see them. Which means I’m going to have to review them. Thanks for nothing, J.K. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.
Now Playing at AMC River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.