Tuesday 27 November 2018

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts - The Crimes of Grindelwald

Director David Yates and screenwriter JK Rowling return to the Wizarding World for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second entry in the series set several decades before Harry Potter.

After several months under lock and key, villainous wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) stages a daring escape from prison. Fleeing to Paris in search of the mysterious Creedence (Ezra Miller), Grindelwald recruits more and more wizards to his nefarious cause - something which doesn't escape the notice of former 'friend' Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).

Unable to face Grindelwald himself for 'plot reasons', Dumbledore decides to send Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), our protagonist and insufferable mumbler in his place. Newt, longing to be reunited with reinstated Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), reluctantly travels to Paris with his Muggle buddy Kowalski (Dan Fogler) by his side - but various other factions and factors complicate matters somewhat, with Newt finding himself in the midst of a much larger scheme than first thought.

If reading that synopsis has made your head spin, you're not alone. Walking into Crimes of Grindelwald, I felt like I hadn't done my Potter homework or brushed up on my Hogwarts history. The film pulls together a sprawling ensemble cast and strains to connect them or give each of them something to do. On the one side you've got the original Fantastic Beasts cast - Newt, Tina, Queenie, Jacob. With the plot increasingly straying into Grindelwald territory, complete with political intrigue and a war brewing, these guys have increasingly less relevance. Tina, bless her, could be sliced out of this film and it wouldn't change a thing. Queenie and Kowalski quite literally pop up out of nowhere and decide to insert themselves into the plot just because.

Then on the other side of the coin you have the Grindelwald/Creedence plot, which is what Rowling is clearly more interested in writing about than hunting fantastic beasts (two films in and we still don't know where to find them). Rowling introduces a swathe of new characters over here, from Zoe Kravitz's Leta Lestrange to Callum Turner's Theseus Scamander and William Nadylam's Yusuf Kama.

The film, much like the first one, then fights with itself to join the two strands together, until you've got Newt (who, as a character, doesn't fit into this wider narrative one ounce) zig-zagging from catching more runaway beasts to being given secret missions by Dumbledore for reasons unknown.
It's this internal confusion that continues to stymie this new Potter series. What started out promising a string of fun, jaunty adventures where we encounter magical creatures has morphed into a much larger, more lore-laden narrative reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels, complete with retcons galore and an timeline that contradicts itself time and again.

That's not to say there isn't good stuff to be found in the belly of this bloated beastie. Kravitz stands head and shoulders above the rest as the most compelling and complex character by far, with the young actress making the most of the wobbly material. And Law makes for a charming and dashing young Dumbledore.

But for every positive are a hufflepuff of negatives; Queenie and Jacob perform a drastic U-turn, going from the best part of the first film to the worst of this one (can't say why, spoilers). Depp doesn't go full Mad Hatter but isn't the same menacing presence as Ralph Fiennes, and Miller gets nothing to do except mope and mutter stuff about his real family.

The visual design is bereft of colour, with 1920s Paris utterly drained of anything visually exciting or compelling, and the score doesn't have the same magical majesty to it that John Williams conjured up in the first Potter films.

At the end of the day, Crimes of Grindelwald is just the next chapter rather than its own story. It picks up from chapter one and some stuff happens that leads into chapter three. But for a film that runs over two hours, nothing of real consequence actually goes down. We're subjected to a lot of standing around and delivering exposition, before a harried finale throws two (!) seperate flashbacks at the audience in a rushed attempt to connect the dots.

The Verdict: 3.5/10

Worse than the first and with little to get excited for going forward, Crimes of Grindelwald is a chapter that starts strong but soon loses its way amidst boring exposition and a needlessly convoluted plot. For a world filled with magic, this film (and series in general) feels amazingly mundane.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is in cinemas across Australia now.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...