Murky to the point of sleep-inducing, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a lot like watching an entire Wizarding World movie through Newt Scamander’s tumbling red forelock.
A parade of back stories involving familiar surnames (Lestrange, Dumbledore), endless exposition and the usual parade of magical critters and apocalyptic wizard fights, it suffers from unfortunate production design that presents most of its two hours and 15 minutes in gloom, fog and underlit murk.
Warner’s decision to sign over this franchise to British director David Yates may still look good on their bottom line. But this lumbering, forlorn cry for “Eye drops, get me EYE DROPS” shows he’s bored with it all and not growing new wit or storytelling skills as he cashes their checks.
Johnny Depp signing on as a murderous elitist and deadly demagogue pays off only in his look — mismatched eye-colors, a shock of whitish punk rock hair. “His message is very seductive” those worried about the escaped monster Grindelwald declare. No, it isn’t.
Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt, summoned to see Dumbledore (Jude Law) on the gargoyled rooftops of 1920s London, given the mission to go and find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a confused youngish wizard looking for a lost “chosen one” sibling. Is he in foggy London, Lost Generation Paris or Jazz Age New York?
A veritable checklist of challengers/helpers connect along the way, from Newt’s government bureaucrat brother (Callum Turner) to circus sideshow changeling Nagini (Claudia Kim), Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) to the returning Queenie (Alison Sobol) and her goofy Muggle love, Jacob (Dan Fogler, always good for a laugh).
“You were supposed to be OBLIVIATED!”
Newt’s fondness for Fantastic Beasts (remember, he’s researching a book) pays off, repeatedly. And the more his brother and others (Katherine Waterston returns as Tina) insist, “You have to choose a side,” the more Newt digs in with “I don’t DO sides.”
J.K. Rowling tries to wrestle messages about “seductive” demagogues and their mesmerized followers in, and raises the stakes (as always) with the consequences of human/wizard weakness in the face of personal, moral and physical challenges.
But by the time that payoff arrives, Yates has all but put us to sleep with visual and plot clutter, darkness, critters and chat.
I’m not a huge fan of this series, but this has to be the worst of the lot, more agonizing to sit through than the page-by-page “true to the book” bores by Chris Columbus, duller than the weakest of the artless Yates pictures.
At times, you’d swear the guy was muddying up the images just to get out of this job-for-life.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Claudia Kim, Callum Turner and Jude Law
Credits: Directed by David Yates, script by J.K. Rowling. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:14