After seven books and eight movies, we really came to love those Harry Potter characters, didn’t we? We watched them grow and learn and evolve — not just the kids, but the adults too.
The prequel franchise assumes, without evidence, that our affection extends to characters we don’t know who happen to live in the same fictional universe as Harry Potter. The dreadful miscalculation made by writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates, first in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and now in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” is that it’s the Wizarding World itself we adore, regardless of who the players are.
This is wrong. It’s so wrong that I’m surprised it needs to be said. We have spent A LOT OF TIME in this world. We are no longer dazzled by the mere existence of magic. What’s more, the dazzle we felt before was partly because we were seeing it through the eyes of characters — wide-eyed children — who were experiencing it for the first time. There was wonderment and discovery, for them and for us. Now there’s just a growing roster of 1920s wizards and witches who have been doing this their whole lives, and an audience who’s been watching it for most of theirs. The magic has lost its magic, you know?
The deal this time is that it’s 1927 and the coldly malevolent Grindelwald (the coldly malevolent Johnny Depp) has escaped from magic prison and is rallying his pureblood followers with the aim of holocausting all non- and semi-magic people. (He’s very Hitler-y, this Grindelwald, and it’s implied at one point that if he’d been permitted to carry out his plan, it would have prevented the actual Hitler. Food for thought!) Grindelwald wants to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), one of the orphans from the last movie, because he believes Credence is some kind of Chosen One. Credence, who is working for/possibly enslaved by a magic freak show in Paris, feels the same way and is looking for his birth mother to find out who he really is. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the quivering autistic man who collects fantastic beasts, is also looking for Credence, acting on orders from Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). And so is Ministry of Magic auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).
Oh, but let me tell you about all the romances! Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), has split up with schlubby muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler) because mixed marriages are frowned upon, so they’re pining for each other. Newt pines for Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who’s engaged to his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), who works for the Ministry of Magic. So little backstory is provided there that I assumed Leta was in the last movie and I’d simply forgotten her (she was not).
Jacob was a bright spot in the previous film because he was a newcomer discovering magic for the first time. Now that it’s old hat to him, he’s as uninteresting as the rest of them. As for Newt, I’m starting to believe these movies are nothing more than an elaborate — and, I might add, highly successful — effort to make me hate Eddie Redmayne. The story lumbers along without urgency, Yates and Rowling believing they’ve earned the audience’s loyalty just by using the Harry Potter font in the titles, and they keep dropping new details to set up the THREE MORE MOVIES planned for this cycle. When they’re not doing that, they’re shoveling out fan service, like a sequence at Hogwarts that absolutely did not need to be set at Hogwarts — but hey, look, Hogwarts! Seeing it reminds us of other movies, movies we liked! What fun.
C- (2 hrs., 14 min.; )