[Screen It]


(2018) (Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp) (PG-13)

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Fantasy: Numerous wizards attempt to stop a dark one from luring a young wizard into his fold and using him to control the world.
It's 1927 and wizard Newt Scamander (EDDIE REDMAYNE) has been banned from international travel by the British Ministry of Magic, what with the damage that occurred in New York City when Newt's menagerie of animals escaped from his magic briefcase. Newt prefers the company of fantastic animals to other wizards or regular No-Maj humans, but does have a friend in baker Jacob Kowalski (DAN FOGLER). He's currently under a romantic spell put on him by Queenie Goldstein (ALISON SUDOL) who wants to get hitched despite the likely repercussions of such a wizard and No-Maj pairing.

At the same time, and with his former Hogwarts classmate and close friend Leta Lestrange (ZOň KRAVITZ) now engaged to his brother, Theseus (CALLUM TURNER), Newt finds himself smitten with Queenie's sister, Tina (KATHERINE WATERSTON). But she's all business, what with being an Auror who's tasked with hunting down and capturing dark wizards.

Her latest target is the powerful Gellert Grindelwald (JOHNNY DEPP) who's managed to escape from his prison in America and is now in Paris. Newt's former professor at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore (JUDE LAW), wants the young wizard to find Grindelwald, what with being unable to take action against the wizard himself.

There's concern that Grindelwald is after young and troubled wizard Credence Barebone (EZRA MILLER) -- who's currently employed at a "freak show" alongside the likes of Nagini (CLAUDIA KIM) -- and will use him to take control of the world, something he believes is a birthright of all purebred wizards. At the same time, a mysterious wizard by the name of Yusuf Kama (WILLIAM NADYLAM) is also after Credence but for different reasons.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Contrary to what some critics -- including, occasionally, myself -- might make you believe, it really is hard to make a good big budget flick that's engaging from the time the lights dim to when the end credits roll.

While some might think having tens or hundreds of millions of dollars at one's disposal, not to mention the backing of a major study and the ability to entice A-list performers to appear in your work should make things relatively easy, they actually usually complicate matters. And sometimes all of those extra elements end up drowning out the simple movie magic audiences hope to see when viewing the finished product.

It gets even more difficult when one is faced with crafting and helming the middle installments of a multi-film series. I'm not talking about sequels that usually just repeat what we've already seen, but instead franchises where there's an evolving storyline that runs through every film.

The initial installments benefit from introducing something new to viewers, while the conclusion -- well -- obviously wraps things up with eventual payoffs related to the material that preceded them. But those middle chapters...well, it's sometimes fairly difficult to make ones that both stand on their own while also keeping the plot and its characters moving along.

When done just right, you forget about the series and where things came from and will ultimately head. When things are off, however, there's no escaping the feeling that you're watching a "to be continued" placeholder where you're going to have to wait a while until you see what everything means and how it all fits together.

It would be sort of like a magic trick where some things happen here and there, but the big reveal is yet to come, albeit one or more years down the line. All of which, and speaking of magic, brings us around to "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald," the sequel to 2016's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," itself a prequel to the uber-popular "Harry Potter" series.

Yes, there are plenty of small magical details scattered throughout the two-hour-plus movie that's been written by original Potter scribe J.K. Rowling and directed by David Yates who not only helmed the first installment, but also 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," 2009's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," 2010's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1," and 2011's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

But as a standalone experience, I'm not sure one could say it feels magical. Instead, it sort of comes off like a port of call where many of the first film's characters -- and a number of new ones -- have debarked to do their thing before getting back on the reported five-stop "Fantastic Beasts" cruise.

Is it horrible? No, not even remotely. Is it boring? Well, there are some moments and material that likely could have been expunged with little to no ill effect, especially considering the overall grand scheme of things. Did it make me want to see the next and then remaining offerings in the series? Yeah, sort of, but not with any real degree of palpable excitement.

The film essentially picks up where the first flick left off, and with a whizz-bang action set piece where the titular villain (Johnny Depp, only briefly seen when things wrapped up last time) manages to escape from his unique prison transport and then heads off to gay Paris where he hopes to recruit a troubled young wizard (Ezra Miller) as the all-important cog he needs to rule the world, pureblood wizard style.

Our unlikely hero from last time, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, fun back then with the original material and his interaction with exotic critters, less so here) is tasked by none other than young Professor Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find the villain. Also after the latter are a number of wizard officials, including Newt's brother (Callum Turner) who's engaged to Newt's former Hogwarts classmate (Zoe Kravitz), as well as a dark wizard hunter (Katherine Waterston) who's drawn the awkward and shy eye of Newt.

She's the sister to a woman (Alison Sudol) who simply wants to get hitched to a non-wizard baker (Dan Fogler, given less to do this time around, which is a shame) and start a family, all while past family issues have a mysterious wizard (William Nadylam) wanting to get some related revenge on the troubled young wizard. And the latter is hanging out with a woman (Claudia Kim) who has some sort of snake disease where every reptilian transformation leaves her one step closer to permanently slithering, coiling and flicking her tongue.

And that's not even the entire cast with speaking parts, all of which leaves the offering feeling a bit jumbled and unnecessarily a bit convoluted. That's especially true considering we presumably still have room in the upcoming three more planned installments, unless they're just going to pile on extra material and characters before everything wraps up.

In the end, that's sort of the feeling with which you're likely to be left. Yes, the special effects are as good as always, the overall offering is quite pretty and the performances are decent. But while there are small bits of magic here, there, and everywhere, the overall movie doesn't feel as magical as it should. But then again, placeholders aren't typically that magical.

Interesting and entertaining enough to warrant a minor passing grade, I hope installment number three ends up working better than this predecessor as a standalone pic. "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 14, 2018 / Posted November 16, 2018

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