Director David Yeats returns to J.K. Rowling territory in the sequel to the first “Fantastic Beasts” film. This one titled “The Crimes of Grindelwald” has plenty of bowtruckles (sentient twigs), bluster and boom but it is dense, confusing and overstuffed with characters and references. This would be fine if it had some real drama or tension, but magically the pathos and suspense is inexplicably absent. In its place are actors merely reading lines.
In this chapter, the blonde vampire-like Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from prison. Though he is a dark wizard, he feels indistinguishable from Count Dracula, vanishing in a ring of smoke and causing a huge maelstrom, where he upsets a carriage and forks a young man’s tongue, while sealing a blood pact. The carriage bounces around and around thousands of feet in the air only to tumble under water, with huge explosions.
Meanwhile, Newt (Eddie Redmayne) argues to get his travel clearances re-instated (revoked in the first film). He meets up with his beloved Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) who is engaged to Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner). Newt also finds his old friend Jacob (Dan Fogler). It becomes clear that Grindelwald wants wizard-world domination, assuming fatherly authority with the abused and abandoned Credence (Ezra Miller).
This is a basic Good vs Evil tale and there are a couple wonderfully vivid scenes: in one a huge sable sheet like a gigantic bat covers the entire city. In the second, there is an epic projection of a German tank with Nazis marching over Paris, only to transform into a fiery mushroom cloud.
But for the most part the narrative lags with endless plot points, minutia and dialogue and the action lags. In its place are sideshows, carnivals and sour faces and not any of it is all that compelling.
Depp’s face in particular is a mask. He is more like a video-game persona and his voice has no inflection. The often wondrous actor is delivering his villain by rote, his sorcery is sedate.
The visual quirks and melodies of a Rowling universe feels clouded and obscured by endless cacophony and infernos. Jude Law is present as Dumbledore but just barely so and the talented Ezra Miller only glares at the camera, offering precious few lines.
The fun highlight of the film, despite his soporific state, is Depp as he utters his last line: “I hate Paris!”
Other than that there is very little that is surprising or numinous here. The only crimes that “The Crimes of Grindelwald” illuminate are that the film is pedestrian, over-long and tedious, despite its phantasmagoric trappings.
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