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‘Fantastic Beasts 2’ overstuffed with characters

November 24, 2018

As an avid follower of the Harry Potter franchise, I thought “Fantastic Beasts” held the promise of further carrying on the tradition in cinematic form for the next few years and over the course of five new films, written by Potter’s creator, J. K. Rowling.

But also, as an avid “Star Wars” nerd, any and all optimism is polluted with prequel-itis (the scientific name, Georgelucas epicus bulimia). I have felt the sting of origin stories spun to serve little more purpose than to fuel nostalgia for cash.

The first film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” was flawed but still had moments of that Rowling magic sprinkled about like beetle-eye dust.

Its sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” feels as though this cinematic marathon took off in a sprint at mile five, not realizing there are 21.2 miles (or three films) left to run.

Set in the late 1920s, “Crimes of Grindelwald” picks up essentially where the previous chapter left off, with dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) in the custody of wizard authorities, thanks to eccentric magizoologist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne).

As you may have derived from the film’s title, Grindelwald is not bound for long, and he escapes to Paris, colluding with a gaggle of loyal henchmen in a quest to divide them and the muggles (non-magical residents), stoking fear and anger amongst the wizards.

The key element to Grindelwald’s plot is to track down Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller), who was presumed dead at the end of the last film. But apparently, he is very much alive and his powers hold the key to Grindelwald completing his nefarious mission.

There are a ton of other subplots, including a peek into the ongoing relationship between human Jacob (played by Dan Fogler) and his wizarding girlfriend Queenie (played by Alison Sudol).

There is also an appearance of the lively young Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law), here a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and friend of Newt’s.

But herein lies one of the main issues of the sequel: It is overstuffed with characters, many of whom are inconsequential to the overall narrative and serve as distractions that keep us merely observing the action instead of inviting us inside, which the Potter films did so well (recall the first view of Hogwarts in all its wonder?).

Director David Yates (who has been behind the camera for the last five Potter-verse films), seems to be juggling far too much here, yanked around by the film’s CGI-coated expositions. And even with all this technical wizardry, there is little magic to be found. It all presses forward with increasingly darker (and duller) tones, without any of the levity that kept the Potter films afloat.

Good luck trying to keep track of all the noise by the film’s conclusion, as even the most devoted fans may find themselves scribbling notes to recall just who did what to whom.

The franchise will have to work especially hard in the remaining three films to keep us all spellbound.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.