Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.
Release Date: November 16th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: David Yates Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoe Kravitz, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, Callum Turner, Poppy Corby-Tuech, William Nadylam
uring his prison transfer from America to Europe, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes with the aid of an undercover spy. Meanwhile, in London, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) fights a travel ban bestowed upon him by the Ministry of Magic due to his recent deleterious exploits in America. When the establishment offers to lift the restrictions in exchange for his help in tracking down and destroying the volatile Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Newt refuses, much to his brother Theseus’ (Callum Turner) dismay. After a surprise visit from Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) that ends with the former heading to Paris to stay with her sister Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, having almost nothing to do here), Newt and Jacob follow shortly after through unofficial channels. But the duo’s missions to reunite with the women they love soon become a battle for survival when they get entwined in Grindelwald’s elaborate machinations for dominance.
Without any kind of preface or introduction, viewers are inserted into the middle of an action sequence, in which Grindelwald stages his escape during a prison transfer. He’s essentially the Hannibal Lecter role, quietly scheming while his captors suspect nothing. Curiously, it’s his sidekick animal (or spiritual familiar) that wears a muzzle. So naive are his escorts that they ferry him in a carriage accompanied with his wand and his pendant, which has significant implications later on. All Grindelwald is missing is some fava beans and a nice chianti.
The entire opening is also a mess of special effects, rapid cutting, lightning and rain, and characters swooping across a blackened sky, making it impossible to decipher exactly what is going on. It’s one of the worst of all cold opens, not only because it’s a jumble, but also because it’s entirely expected. Grindelwald, sporting the black garb and pasty skin of a standard villain from the Harry Potter universe, can only become the main antagonist if he escapes. And so his escape is devised. This, of course, is a continuing problem with the entire picture.
“What is he doing here?” Someone forgettable reappears to provide an impediment to Newt and his impromptu assignments, scoffing about the young wizard’s previous decimation of 50% of New York. Clearly, audiences will need to brush up on the events of the last film, as nothing is reiterated. At least Newt is an honorable hero, noted for having no interest in power or popularity; he simply does what is right. Unfortunately, he’s also scatterbrained and deficient in communicating with others, like the type of hapless, slapstick buffoon who might lead a Preston Sturges film.
“I can’t move against Grindelwald,” insists Dumbledore, though he doesn’t offer up an immediate explanation. Later, the antagonist claims of Credence, “He must come to me freely,” and “Credence is the only entity alive who can kill him.” But once again, there’s no elucidation. Perhaps the answers lie in a book of predictions by some wizard with a tongue-twister for a name, which everyone seems to have read. As with many fantasy epics, especially those stretched out into a lengthy series, there are legends and prophecies and magic conjured up on the spot to provide reasons for why the heroes fight the villains. But since this newest franchise isn’t based on specific novels, the plot’s sense of randomness and spur-of-the-moment improvisation are even greater. Perhaps the worst offender is a scene in which a hidden box filled with tell-all secrets is mentioned on a whim, thereby creating another errand for Newt and crew to pursue.
By the end of it all, despite a few major revelations (the kind that are completely in line with the Harry Potter world, and therefore not terribly jaw-dropping), this middle, middle chapter reveals itself to be little more than a collection of hunts: a hunt for Credence, a hunt for Queenie, a hunt for Grindelwald, a hunt for Kama (William Nadylam), a hunt for Tina, a hunt for family members, and a hunt for various truths. These endeavors are doused in CG-augmented fantasy, a bit of action, a touch of romance (Queenie and Jacob’s love story is the most interesting, even though it follows the Romeo and Juliet formula), and a hint of humor (far less than in the first movie). But it doesn’t make much of a difference; Grindelwald boasts better, more destructive magic solely because he needs to in order to remain a formidable villain; his supporters are more numerous, simply because the heroes need to appear outnumbered; and no one knows exactly how to stop him – yet – because that would be too easy.
– The Massie Twins