IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 133 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald escapes from prison and sets out to take over the Wizarding World. The Magical Congress of the United States of America [MACUSA)] asks Newt Salamander, who’s been banned from travelling, to help. He travels to Paris to find the mysterious Credence Barebone, whom Grindelwald wants to weaponise while the MACUSA, led by Newt’s brother Theseus who’s engaged to Leta Lestrange Newt’s former fiancee, wants to capture him. Also there is Tina, an American wizard he rather likes, and his old ally Jacob, a No-Maj who’s trying to make sense of his relationship with Queenie….
2016’s Fantastic Beasts And How To Find Them [of which you can read my review here] was a decent diversion in 2016 with a pleasant whimsical air. This follow-up is just an unwieldy mess both tonally and plot wise. It takes a very skilled director to balance things like the killing of small children with jokey interaction with cute creatures, and Yates, who still seems to have a problem with colour and for reasons best known to him sets out to make his film look as gray and dreary as possible, is certainly no skilled director. Meanwhile writer J. K. Rowling decided to cram in so many subplots that few of them are able to breathe and the total removal of a couple would have benefited the film considerably. My synopsis may sound convoluted, but I failed to mention other strands like Professor Albus Dumbledore having a lost love, which is infuriatingly handled – if you’re going to have a gay relationship in a film and hopefully win points for being inclusive, then why be so coy about it in a film that often thinks it’s the most adult one in this franchise yet? This subplot leads to a pointless trip to Hogwarts that seems to exist purely to provide some nostalgia for fans – in fact little of what’s going on seems of much consequence. Flashbacks and supporting characters provide reams of exposition, while the brief bursts of action are over-edited so it’s hard to make out what’s going on at times. A battle between one large creature and three small ones should be a high point, but it’s over in just a few seconds.
The visual effects do usually improve on the ones in the first film and there are some neat ideas, like the gold, sparkly mist that – when sprinkled – reveals the exact conversations and actions that took place there, down to the footprints. There’s the wonderfully scary and surreal image of huge black cloths covering Paris. In terms of creatures there’s a magnificent seahorse for us monster lovers to appreciate. But when a film has magic being used every minute or so, the law of diminishing returns begins to apply, while Yates still has little feel for fantasy. Why does he keep being asked to direct these films that cry out for someone else to have a go? Maybe it’s because he seems in thrall to Rowling’s writing which has considerable room for improvement all over the place. A mumbling Eddie Redmayne and a goofy Dan Fogler ham up their roles and become increasingly tiresome, but Johnny Depp is really quite marvelous as Grindlewald, playing the part as if it were Shakespeare and avoiding his usual tics. I also like the way the social/political commentary is handled, with the Ministry’s heavy handedness sending people to the other side, and it all seeming to be a treatise on racism, but overt preaching being avoided. But mostly this is wearing stuff in the wrong way.