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The beastly boys: JK Rowling misses a trick

Second instalment of Fantastic Beasts, starring Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne, feels like the Harry Potter films all over again

16 November, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
Directed by David Yates
Certificate 12a
☆☆

IF you are a member of the club who’d shove Harry Potter’s wand up his snooty little nose, you might have found the first Beasts movie, a new story set in JK Rowling’s world, a welcome change. Starring a zoologist interested in extraordinary creatures, it felt at last something original and quirky was going to come from the Potter universe, and something more interesting than regurgitated boarding-school tales.

This second instalment has sadly reverted to type – this feels like the Harry Potter films all over again. Cute animals are minor distractions.

Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp with a Billy Idol hairstyle) is a nasty old wizard, who we saw imprisoned at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts. He escapes as he is being extradited from New York to London and hides out in Paris, where he plans to get a bunch of wand-wavers together to enslave Muggles. The Ministry of Magic ask Dumbledore (Jude Law, looking like a conjurer who has stepped from the pages of GQ magazine and would baulk at mixing potions in case it splashed on his gown) to have a word.

For reasons not entirely clear, they also ask unenthusiastic zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to sort it out.

We set out on an adventure that could be confusing if it was engaging enough to make you care. Instead, you’ll be worn out by trying to get through numerous plot-thickening asides, set-piece battles and the usual hocus pocus.

Redmayne’s post-Hawking schtick rubs up the wrong way. Newt is a cross between all the previous characters he has played, channelling his dippy, through-the-fringe-peering public school boy act. As a mythical beast zoologist, he could have done with a big dose of Gerald Durrell from his A Zoo In My Luggage period, or the young David Attenborough searching for birds of paradise in Indonesian jungles.

The most engaging character, chubby Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), could have provided a much better eye to view the action through, but he becomes a clichéd sidekick film fatso. What a missed opportunity in a movie of missed opportunities.

And what a wonderful film this could have been: a new landscape for Potter fans to explore, with a magic zoologist on incredible adventures to find/ save/befriend mythical beasts – but no, it is a run-of-the-mill tale of goodies trying to save the world from baddies. It suffers badly from the usual delusions of grandeur superhero films all must face.

What will posterity think of this Rowling universe, and the metaphors she used to speak about our world today?

As flicks of the 1950s played on a fear of the USSR and atomic annihilation via alien invasions, JK may be doing something similar. She sets out a stall for good – the magic folk who want to peacefully co-exist with people who are different from them – versus the evil wizards who want to dominate the Muggle world.

If so, it feels clumsy, just another money-generating but bottom-numbingly dry film in a series we’ll be expected to come back to next year.

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