The Harry Potter prequel series Fantastic Beasts is having a hard time finding the sure footing that the parent series consistently offered. The original Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them from 2016 had its charms but never fully found the balance between big, moralist ideas and pure accessible escapism. This newest chapter throws that balance even further out of whack with a barrage of sub-plots and characters that all feel like a setup for future installments.
This may just be the curses of the second film in a five-film series. However it is odd there isn't more great stuff here given that J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay and David Yates, who directed the last four Potter films, is so familiar with this world. The fault lies more with Rowling as Yates directs the hell out of this film. It is easily the best looking film of the year, full of visual delights that Potter fans will eat up. It is as if Rowling couldn't self-edit and has crammed too much into this story. The result is a sluggish film with moments of magic.
Eddie Redmayne is back as Newt Scamander, this time being asked by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to hunt down and stop Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The film opens with a thrilling prison break as Grindelwald unleashes his fury before setting his eyes on Creedance Barebone (Ezra Miller). He believes Creedance is the only man who can end Dumbledore and help him realize his world vision of wizards ruling over muggles. Depp reigns in his usual weirdness and finds a villainous tone to his movements and speech.
Along the way, we meet some new characters including Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Newt's brother Theseus (Callum Turner). We also see familiar faces in Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), Queen (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler). This sequel makes a detrimental mistake of giving Jacob a rather dower storyline here which robs the movie of Fogler's charm as the comic relief. This absence gives The Crimes of Grindelwald a moodier and darker tone without much relief.
Yates is such a strong director that he creates a few memorable moments and some incredible images despite the screenplay's issues. There is a circus tent scene that thrills and a new spell that reveals what happened in a certain location via gold glitter that is rather memorable. There are also some new fantastic beasts that live up to their name. For Potterheads, the film offers up a few startling revelations but they only serve to set up the next film.