Sporadically Fantastic

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 17 Nov 2018 11:22:53



Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

By Farina Salim Quraishi,

J K Rowling’s whimsical world of wizards and witches is a magical place to be, pun intended of course. And the Wizarding World gets a lot bigger in the second part of the five-part franchise Fantastic Beasts. Rowling weaves strong magic in a new world even though it is far removed from the incredibly detailed and delightful universe of Harry Potter. The charm in the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is, however, of the darker variety - grim and ever so somber.

Detailing the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander - who came to New York City in 1926 with a magical valise - the new addition to the 10-film and 9-book series is a magical adventure and an immersive dip back into the wizarding world packed with wonder but too many characters. With enough nods and winks to Happy Potter series sprinkled wondrously throughout the whimsical drama, fans are in for a heart-warming, if not entirely satisfying treat, as all things magical and even ‘no-maj’ take centre stage one again.

Set in the late 1920s, shortly after the events of the previous film, The Crimes of Grindelwald gets off to a roaring start with Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) being captive in a high security MACUSA prison and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) returning to London, leaving Tina (Katherine Waterston) behind in New York.

Grindelwald, while being transported to London, pulls off a bravura escape and heads to Paris to put his sinister plan into action. He doesn’t believe in the idea of peaceful co-existence with the muggles and is convinced that the only way for wizards to survive in the world is by establishing dominance over muggles. Grindelwald needs 'obscurial' Credence (Ezra Miller) and his formidable dark powers to achieve his purpose. Credence is also in Paris, searching for his mother, along with girlfriend Nagini (Claudia Kim), a Maledictus cursed to turn into a snake forever one day.

While Newt still isn’t allowed to leave England, a young Dumbledore (Jude Law) sends Newt to Paris to stop Grindelwald. The evil sorcerer is busy in gathering his faithfuls -pure-blood wizards -in an attempt to rule both the wizarding and human world. With everyone, right from MACUSA to British Ministry of Magic, Tina and even a reluctant Newt picking sides and joining the fight, Dumbledore too plays his part in the war but with both his hands tied behind his back.

Much like the oft-repeated spell in Potter verse, Mischief Managed; it is Magic just about Managed in Fantastic Beasts. The plot is very dense with just too many characters populating the over-long saga alongside the numerous magnificent beasts. Instead of building upon the story, characters and conflicts that Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them established in 2016, The Crimes of Grindelwald has more layers and introduces yet more new players.

In addition to the long list of characters old and new, the sheer abundance of sub-plots strain the attention of even the most discerning fans. Right from the complicated relations Newt has with his bureaucrat brother Thesueus, to his former school-mate Leta Lestrange, to familiar yet new dynamics of old friends, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), right down to the mystery around Credence and doubts over Dumbledore’s loyalty, all are exhausting and take up too much time in 134-minute saga.

And this makes The Crimes of Grindelwald a meandering, muddled, overstuffed mess. Rowling is a master story-teller but falters with Fantastic Beasts 2. In setting up the grounds for three more installments, the film has lost much of it’s bite and goes around in circles.  The film is also undeniably designed only for die-hard fans. Not a stand-alone one like the Harry Potter movies, there are several reveals in the movie that will mean a lot to Potter fans but zilch to the uninitiated.

However, unlike the prequel, the film is structurally familiar to Harry Potter stories. It also has a firmer grasp on what kind of movie it wants to be. The fact that the film is not based on a book per say gives Fantastic Beast 2 ample room to set its tone and temperament. Harry Potter veteran and director David Yates uses a dramatic approach and infuses several cliff-hanger moments, which keep the viewers glued to the seats. The spectacular action-adventure stays clear of children zone and regularly dips into the dark side. Several outstanding sequences, including the one where Newt reconstructs a crime scene using a glittery gold magical powder or the human-to-snake transformation and the visually stunning beasts, will have fans eager for an encore.

The beast themselves are bigger and definitely better. While Niffler and Bowtruckle take a bow again, new creatures like Kelpie the underwater horse or a rampaging Taowu -a Chinese dragon with a smiley face or the sinister herd of Matagots - evil cats with alien eyes are value additions.

For all the focus and acknowledgement in the title, it is the characters not beasts which are in forefront in the movie. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander has well and truly settled in as the unworldly, stammering and flustered wizard, interested only in his magical creatures. Be it his slightly cross-footed walk or the way he blinks his eyes uncomprehendingly at times, to the way he lowers them to hide his emotions or even the way he waves the wand; he has become Rowling’s true-blue Newt, and owns every scene he is in.

Johnny Depp is captivating as the titular villain and distressingly creepy. White haired, soft spoken and with very pale skin, Depp features prominently this time round and is at his subdued best. Sure, he’s the quintessential bad guy, but with Rowling giving him a solid moral ambiguity, Grindelwald is a fascinating character. Jude Law is impressive and shines brilliantly in his small but substantial role, while Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange and Katherine Waterston as Tina rock the show with solid performances.

Full of several new characters, revelations and storylines, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has more questions than answers. With a lot many loose ends and a plot deeply enmeshed in the combined world of Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter, this one is for the fans and fans alone. Other needs to ‘obliviate,’ this one.

The Hitavada Rating:  O O1/2