The first follow-up to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them two years ago is even more lumbering and stodgy, with dreary characters, soulless FX frenzies and an overriding sense that the whole Harry Potter universe is well past its prime.
Written for the screen by J.K. Rowling (who’s got to keep it all going somehow) and directed by David Yates (who handled four Potters and the previous Beasts and is likely to stay on for further sequels), this production had a few hiccups and controversies, but the finished result is so bland and tiresome it’s hard to believe that fans, purists and moral monitors were ever worried.
We open in the American Ministry Of Magic in 1927 after the events of the first film and find the oh-so-powerful Gellert Grindelwald in prison and getting ready, of course, to break out. He’s portrayed by Johnny Depp again, although it might well not have been, as Warner Brothers very nearly sacked him after all the nasty publicity surrounding his recent messy divorce, but Rowling stuck by the star and he does seem oddly restrained here (almost contrite?), and proves less campy old Jack Sparrow and more constipated Ziggy Stardust with a glimmer of Trump (albeit smarter).
After his escape we switch to the British Ministry Of Magic and watch as that irritating ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander (mannered Eddie Redmayne) is reprimanded for the damage his Beasts did to New York in Part 1. He’s hit with a travel ban (a curious lick of satire in a movie that appears to be trying to make some veiled political point), and returns home to a house full of freaky critters and assists the adoring Bunty (Victoria Yeates) in caring for them. It’s quite a menagerie, if not diverting enough to save the film, and includes a sort of bipedal platypus, a reindeer-hippo, a mutant hawk-thing, a bunch of sentient eyeballs and a water kelpie manifest as a feisty batch of seaweed.
Newt is naturally in contact with the young Albus Dumbledore down Hogwarts way, and he’s played with a bit of heart and humour by Jude Law in easily the best, least infuriating performance here. He still has trouble with all the ponderous dialogue and portentous speechifying though, and there’s an awful lot of that, as the convoluted plot spills out everywhere.
Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) from Part 1 turn up for unfunny comedy, but the smitten Scamander really wants to catch up with Tina (Katherine Waterston), and they all nip off to Paris to do so, only to find her playing second-fiddle to a whole bunch of boring new characters, most of whom will eventually be recruited or slain by Grindelwald. There’s also a huge pantomime-Chinese-dragon-cat-thingie swooping about, and yes, it is heavily implied that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were (spoilers?) once lovers, a not-quite-twist that half the fans wanted kept in and the rest loudly insisted be cut out completely lest the very fabric of civilisation fray.
With far too much going on, oodles of ho-hum FX, iffy casting and forgettable characters that pale beside their Pottery counterparts (Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie versus Harry, Hermione and Ron?), this will nevertheless be praised by passionate legions of Rowling devotees who’ll gladly devour any old thing provided it comes from the ‘Wizarding World’. A small, unconvinced minority, however, will find the whole interminable epic scarcely enchanting or spellbinding.
And anyone for Quidditch?