I can remember quite distinctly, in 1999 and still youthfully optimistic, the sinking feeling of confusion and dismay that accompanied the closing credits of The Phantom Menace. The crushing realisation that the long-awaited first Star Wars prequel was simply not any good. It was too long, too incoherent, tonally too much of a scruffy patchwork and simply not up to the high standards set by the series until that point. In 2018, some 19 years later, it is with no sense of enjoyment that I break it to young Potter fans that their Phantom Menace moment has arrived. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a shocker: an utterly convoluted script that descends into nine levels of its own inward-looking hell; a tonally inconsistent ice cream sundae of emotions and convoluted narratives that never seems to have any idea of which way it wants to face.
The details of the plot are bewildering and, eventually, as the movie peters out to a stupefying conclusion, feel like an utterly irrelevant waste of everyone’s time. Following the chaos in New York, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has been arrested, but it’s not long before he breaks free to continue his plan of hastening a race war between magical and non-magical folk. He travels to Paris where he believes the emotionally unstable and potentially dangerous Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) has fled in order to seek out his birth mother. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is back in London having had is international travel privileges revoked due to his part in the destruction in the previous movie. The Ministry of Magic attempts to recruit him to assassinate Credence but the morally upstanding Scamander refuses. A young Albus Dumbledore also tries to convince the naturalist to go to Paris in the hope of preventing any further harm coming to Credence, although Scamander also refuses this offer.
Just when it seems like the plot of the movie is destined to be stuck in neutral, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and a bewitched Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) appear with news that Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), the woman with whom Newt is clearly taken, maybe in Paris too; and so the mechanics of a plot that also contains sub-plots involving Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange, Scamander’s Ministry-man brother and a still-human Nagini (Claudia Kim) creak into life with all the grace and lithe nimbleness of a gorilla with a rubber mallet.
The chief issue here is that, not only is this a movie that insists on foisting more narrative threads upon its audience than well-greased sorting hat, it’s also a movie has no idea, at any given point, how it wants its audience to feel. The tone crashes about between hi-jinx and slapstick, to torture, murder and despair almost within the space of minutes. It’s a movie that is happy to incorporate references to the rise of fascism in Europe in the late 1920s with doe-eyed Chinese dragons cooing at dolls and acutely befuddled Eddie Redmayne. Late in the movie, the audience is taken from a comedy heist to a flashback featuring infanticide and implied sexual assault in the space of ten minutes. The various tentacles of plot twist in all directions in an ungainly mess that feels utterly redundant when one finally arrives at a finale and plot twist so unlikely and unpalatable that will forever be remembered as the ultimate credibility-shredding moment.
The Fantastic Beasts series began on an underwhelming note and what it needed was a shot in the arm, what this sequel has actually delivered is an unforgivable curse.
Chris Banks | [rating=1]
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Fantasy, Adventure | UK, 2018 | 12A | 16th November 2018 (UK) | Warner Bros | Dir.David Yates | Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoe Kravitz, Dan Fogler