New Fantastic Beasts sequel struggles to cast the right spell, but still enchants us with its wonders

The film brews a surprising concoction of drawbacks and achievements

Image courtesy of CNet

By: Jonathan Pabico, Peak Associate

 

Wands at the ready, Harry Potter fans! David Yates’ Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald finally arrived in theatres. Unfortunately, this latest sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will generate mixed reactions, despite its various instances of satisfying homage to the Harry Potter film franchise.

       Unlike Colin Farrell’s take on the character from the first installment, Johnny Depp as Grindelwald does not do much in this film. With Grindelwald’s crimes barely explored in the movie, Depp fails to deliver much tension with such a constrained role. His abrupt one-liners with other characters render him a mere caricature of archetypal villains from previous fantasy narratives. The only scene where Depp’s performance truly shines is his dramatic speech before the climax. Depp employs a theatrical charisma that, with the scene’s impressive staging and beckoning wide shots, instills a Shakespearean atmosphere that shapes this plot point into a captivating set piece for the story. Still, this scene does not compensate for Depp’s insufficient part in the movie.

      Although this sequel starts with a good opening sequence, the rest of the plot is confusing due to J.K. Rowling’s screenplay. It features too many subplots, detracting from the main characters’ journey throughout the story. Rowling provides a script that sadly becomes too expositional and sometimes even stale with its dialogue. Furthermore, the unnecessary focus on secondary characters offers nothing crucial to the film’s stakes and offsets the momentum for the movie’s ending. But, Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski) and Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein) are an exception to this pitfall through their endearing social dynamic that supplies most of the film’s heart.

      Despite the narrative’s shortcomings, Eddie Redmayne still provides a brilliant performance as Newt Scamander. Like the first Fantastic Beasts, Redmayne portrays Scamander as a socially awkward yet kind-hearted wizard. His scenes with many of the film’s magical creatures convey a heartwarming innocence that, when balanced with bright colours and uplifting visuals, perfectly contrasts with the story’s more dangerous and secretive wizarding world. Yet, Redmayne’s scenes with Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore are quite dry, especially given Law’s role is a little more than a glorified cameo.  However, Redmayne’s touching bond with Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein) counterbalances this drawback, even though their scenes together are not as enthralling as in the first film.

     Aside from Redmayne, the movie’s best set piece is the memorable appearance of Hogwarts. With James Newton Howard’s riveting musical score of the original Harry Potter soundtrack, the few scenes that feature this iconic school evoke sentimental imagery for fans. Hogwarts subsequently becomes more interesting to appreciate than most of the film’s story.

     Overall, this sequel is not as impressive as its predecessor. Whether as a devout Harry Potter fan or just an average moviegoer, the story’s flaws and successes will create mixed reactions. Still, David Yates’ Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an entertaining fantasy adventure that instills the same wonder and awe first imagined by J.K. Rowling’s classic Harry Potter book series.