Just two years ago, director David Yates and author J.K. Rowling sought to expand upon the wizarding world of “Harry Potter” by delving into one of the previously-unseen characters, magizoologist Newt Scamander. The resulting film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” was something of a mixed bag that offered some fun characters and striking visual effects, but little in the way of story thanks to Rowling’s weak screenplay. However, with the film being a major success (as was quite predictable), we knew we’d be seeing a sequel sooner rather than later, which brings us to “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Rowling’s had two years to polish her screenwriting skills, but did she learn from her previous mistakes, or was the sequel doomed to fall prey to the same issues as before?
The film begins with the transfer of the notorious wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who escapes his captivity and seeks to continue his quest to bring his followers together and rule over the non-wizard population. Meanwhile, Newt (Eddie Redmayne), joined by his friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), disobeys his strict order not to travel to go to Paris in an attempt to find Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). However, they are eventually pulled into the dark mystery surrounding Grindelwald and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). What is the true identity of this young man and what is his connection to the infamous wizard? Together, Newt and his companions must try to solve the mystery and stop Grindelwald before he can carry out his nefarious scheme.
A sequel to “Fantastic Beasts” certainly had some potential. After all, the original film had a lot to offer. However, what it really needed was a stronger screenwriter to give it a storyline that would captivate viewers the same way the “Harry Potter” films had. It had been J.K. Rowling’s first screenplay, so the weakness of the writing perhaps shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, writing novels is one thing (something she’s quite good at), while screenwriting is an entirely different art altogether. When it came to a sequel, the obvious thing that could’ve been done would be to give the assignment to someone with more experience (Steve Kloves, who wrote almost all of the “Harry Potter” films, would’ve been a great choice), especially after the questionable first film. But even so, as mentioned, it’s entirely possible that she could have learned a few things over the last two years that would allow her to deliver a powerful sequel that would surprise us all.
Alas, it would appear that this isn’t so, as once again the single biggest problem is Rowling’s lackluster screenplay, which has an even weaker storyline than the previous film. In fact, just trying to nail down what the exact plot of this sequel is would cause anyone difficulty. Characters randomly come and go, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) is consulted, but serves little actual purpose in the film, while the overly-convoluted explanation of past events is finally spouted out by a pair of characters in the last 20 minutes or so of the film, all before a drawn-out climactic lightshow finally brings it to a close. Indeed, it’s rather safe to say that, whatever Rowling was trying to accomplish story-wise here, it didn’t quite make it to the screen.
Sadly, the film’s problems go even further than that, for where there was once a kind of boundless energy among the incredible cast, there now seems to be an overcast boredom. Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, who had so lit up the screen in the previous installment, comes across as very low-key, while Johnny Depp appears to be sleepwalking through each and every one of his scenes. In fact, the only one who seems to have any spirit at all is Dan Fogler, who still manages to infuse Jacob with a little vitality amidst a sea of indifferent performances (This is not to say that Jude Law doesn’t try, but his character is so irrelevant to the film that his effort hardly makes a difference).
All-in-all, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is considerably weaker than the original film, which hadn’t been particularly strong in the first place. As a sequel, this latest entry is even more forgettable and will leave Potter fans scratching their heads as to what could have possibly gone so wrong. It’s being reported that there are going to be three more of these films and that Rowling will continue to write the screenplay for each entry, which probably means that the quality of the storytelling will continue to decline, or at the very least stay on the same level. A co-writer seriously needs to be considered, for without one, the future of the series looks to be very dark, a prospect that will no doubt worry the diehard fans of this wizarding world. 1.5/4 stars.