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Fantastic Beasts II Review: Is Harry Potter Losing Its Magic?

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald’ begins with one of the most stunning and exhilarating sequences I have ever seen throughout the Harry Potter franchise. Set in the backdrop of 1920's New York, at the stroke of midnight, with rain lashing down and thunder on the horizon, notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is escorted to face judgment for his crimes. Bundled into an imposing, Gothic stage-coach, pulled by monstrous, skeletal winged horses, Grindelwald is soon flown off through the skies of New York, the sable stage-coach hurtling through the air into the roiling storm clouds. What follows is an escape scene nothing short of jaw-dropping. Over the course of five minutes, we see the dreaded Grindelwald slaughter his way to freedom, in a sequence brimming with ingenuity and charged with adrenaline. With rain crashing down in sheets, and thunder crackling above, the audience is treated to a stunning display of power. Ropes are turned into hissing snakes that tear out throats, lightning is summoned to blast broomsticks from the air, the luckless guards are drowned with conjured water, only for the survivors to hurtle screaming to their deaths after the carriage door is blasted open a thousand feet above ground. As Grindelwald rides his team of demonic horses to freedom, iconic Elder wand in hand, the film seems to only just be getting started. The reality however, is unfortunately quite the opposite. ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ peaks early in its first few minutes, and with a full two hours and thirteen minutes to go, proceeds to plummet into utter mediocrity.

As a long-time, utterly devoted fan of Rowling's "Potterverse", It pains me to have to write such a negative review. Particularly with the knowledge of how high my hopes were when entering the cinema. After the pleasant surprise that was ‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ looked to be an even more tantalising prospect, loaded with higher stakes, familiar characters and different locations and monsters to explore. Furthermore, with a script penned by Rowling herself, and direction headed by long-time Potter film veteran David Yates, I approached Crimes of Grindelwald with high hopes indeed. That perhaps, is why after viewing it, rather than being displeased I was… disappointed. This is especially due to the fact that Rowling, an extremely accomplished author, manages to produce one of the most unintelligible, cluttered and confusing plots I have ever seen. Her usual creative genius and skill seems to have completely deserted her, with random characters, plot devices and motivations appearing and disappearing throughout the film almost at random. It is so confusing as to be actually staggering. Characters are introduced into the film, only to vanish almost for no reason, whilst others seem to have no decipherable role within the film itself.

Nagini (Claudia Kim) for example, is revealed to be a maledictus- a human cursed to eventually remain in the form of a snake for evermore. Whilst certainly an intriguing and creative origin for Lord Voldemort's treasured serpent, I could not for the life of me find a single reason for the character's introduction, or what role she played in the plot (Nagini has a grand total of almost ten lines). Alchemist Nicholas Flamel also appears briefly, but once again seems to only exist within the film as a cheap appeal to nostalgia, (much like Nagini) a meaningless Easter egg that is incorporated for no other reason but fan service.

Worse still, everything that worked so well in the first film seems to have been completely discarded. The heart-warming and comedic duo of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) are pushed roughly aside in favour of new characters such as Newt's brother, Theseus (Callum Turner) and potential love interest Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), a decision which would be warmly welcomed, if any of said characters shared a modicum of chemistry with the film's protagonist. Meanwhile, the bumbling and loyal Jacob (the heart of the first movie) is shoddily discarded like a used sock, his role diminished almost entirely. Even the magical beasts themselves seem to have lost their charm, despite admittedly some phenomenal new monsters and gorgeous special effects. Yet the film rushes along so awkwardly and disjointedly that we are barely given time to enjoy the wonders of this wizarding bestiary. There are certainly fresh ideas present (in particular the designs of the French Ministry of Magic and certain new spells are very impressive) yet there is always an underlying sense of lost potential. So caught up in setting up sequels and jumbled plot-lines, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ never takes a breath to pause and savour the beauty of its own universe.

Sloppy, is a word that comes to mind frequently when watching the movie. Where once Harry Potter was focused on building a wondrous world of magic and fantasy, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ has a disturbingly cynical feel, more centred on making billions at the box office than delivering a sincere, enjoyable film. Even the introduction of three baby Nifflers (as maddeningly adorable as they are) is painfully apparent to only exist to sell toys. It is a frustratingly lazy and detached effort, with the film forgetting its own rules in its haste to churn out a sequel: characters “apparate” inside of Hogwarts multiple times despite the books stating this is not possible, and despite Nagini's curse apparently activating only at nightfall, by the film's third act she is still a human despite running around a cemetery at midnight. Rowling's script juggles motivations and sub-plots like the world's worst clown, fumbling and stumbling from scene to scene, whilst absurd twists and revelations are conjured out of thin air, like a magician proudly presenting a bouquet of roses that were poking out of his sleeve the entire time.

And the performances can barely save this mess. Redmayne is endearingly awkward and shy as Newt Scamander, especially in a particularly heart-warming scene that not even the most jaded cynic could frown at, but his character lacks real motivation. Jude Law is excellent as Albus Dumbeldore, presenting a confident, yet also vulnerable portrayal of the character (in one of the only truly good scenes, Dumbeldore's homosexual attraction towards Grindelwald is poignantly conveyed) but he appears so infrequently throughout the film there is barely anything to savour. Despite being the film's arguably most important character, Ezra Miller is curiously wooden as Credence Barebone, whilst Claudia Kim's Nagini is so devoid of any emotion and bland that even her reptilian form is more expressive.

No film is complete without its villain, and whilst nowhere nearly as intimidating as Lord Voldemort, Depp portrays Grindelwald with terrifying charm, allure and charisma; a dangerously seductive, thrilling figure. Yet it is hard to take him very seriously throughout the film. Perhaps the true crime of Grindelwald is his fashion sense, as Depp strides from scene to scene in knee-length black leather boots with heels, sweeping coats and absurd bleach-blonde hair. Furthermore, the film tends to go overboard with the character. Grindelwald himself, an Austrian megalomaniac who seeks blood purity and the subjugation of "lesser races" is an allegory about as subtle as being clubbed to death with an iron bar, and where once Lord Voldemort was surrounded by the demented Bellatrix Lestrange, the snivelling Peter Pettigrew and the sly Lucius Malfoy, Grindelwald is accompanied by an atrociously bland entourage of characters whose names are as forgettable as their faces.

Ultimately, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald', like the spells cast by its characters, is loud, flashy, but ultimately has no real substance or lasting impact. It is an entertaining experience, yes, with hints at truly creative and fun ideas, but one scarred by studio greed, and most importantly, lacking any heart. In their haste to continue to set up a money-making franchise, the film is rendered an incomprehensible and tedious mess, with underdeveloped and weak characters and a nonsensical plot. Despite some moments that shine out, and a truly amazing start, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ plods on, completely devoid of the spirit and magic of the original Potter movies in its cynical determination to squeeze as many dollars out of fans as possible. Much like one of Rowling's own creations, the Dementors, ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ is ultimately soulless thing, determined to suck all the joy and happiness out of what was once a phenomenally captivating franchise.

There are many beasts in this movie, but very little of it is anywhere close to fantastic.

Pablo L, Year 12

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