Fan­tas­tic Beasts is a mixed bag of won­ders

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - Jake COYLE

Like the bot­tom­less trunk tot­ted by “ma­g­i­zo­olol­o­gist” Newt Sca­man­der, Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald is a mixed bag of won­ders.

Newt (Ed­die Red­mayne) can reach into his suit­case and, like Mary Pop­pins be­fore him, pull out just about any­thing. And it some­times feels as though J.K. Rowl­ing – a screen­writer here for the sec­ond time – is sim­i­larly in­fat­u­ated by her un­end­ing pow­ers of con­jur­ing. In this over­stuffed sec­ond film in the five-part Harry Pot­ter pre­quel se­ries, ev­ery solved mys­tery un­locks an­other, ev­ery story begets still more. Nar­ra­tives mul­ti­ply like randy Nif­flers (one of the many species of crea­ture in Newt’s bag).

The usual prob­lem for spinoffs is their thin­ness or their un­ful­filled jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – es­pe­cially ones that stretch an al­ready much-stretched tale. (There were eight Pot­ter movies.) But nei­ther are is­sues in the two Fan­tas­tic Beasts films, each di­rected by for­mer Pot­ter hand David Yates. Both movies are rooted in pur­pose. The Crimes of Grindel­wald, es­pe­cially, is an im­pres­sively dark and ur­gent para­ble of su­prem­a­cist ide­ol­ogy aimed squarely at to­day’s dem­a­gogues of divi­sion. And nei­ther film lacks in den­sity of de­tail, char­ac­ter or story.

No, the only real crime of Gin­del­wald is its sheer abun­dance. In zip­ping from New York to Lon­don to Paris (with min­istries of magic in each lo­cale), this lat­est chap­ter in Rowl­ing’s pre-Pot­ter saga feels so ea­ger to be out­side the walls of Hog­warts (which also get a cameo) that it re­sists ever set­tling any­where, or with any of its widely scat­tered char­ac­ters – among them Newt, the con­sci­en­tious dark magic in­ves­ti­ga­tor Tina (Kather­ine Water­ston), the New Yorker no-maj Ja­cob (Dan Fogler), Tina’s sis­ter and Ja­cob’s sweet­heart Quee­nie (Ali­son Su­dol) and the haunted for­mer school­mate of Newt’s, Leta Les­trange (Zoe Kravitz)

No one does the fore­bod­ing sense of a loom­ing bat­tle bet­ter than Rowl­ing. Now, it’s the rise of Gellert Grindel­wald (Johnny Depp), freshly es­caped from prison, who casts a length­en­ing shadow over the land. With a blond shock of hair and a ghostly white face, Grindel­wald is Rowl­ing’s mag­i­cal ver­sion of a white na­tion­al­ist, only he be­lieves in the el­e­va­tion of wizards – “pure­bloods” – over those who lack mag­i­cal pow­ers, or “no-ma­jes.”

It’s 1927 and the dark clouds of fas­cism are swirling; World War II feels right around the cor­ner. In one the movie’s many tricks, Grindel­wald drapes Paris in black fab­ric, like a wannabe Christo.

De­spite the gather­ing storm, the paci­fist Newt (Red­mayne, cloy­ingly shy), re­sists draw­ing bat­tle lines. When pushed by his brother Th­e­seus (Cal­lum Turner), who like Tina is an Auror who en­forces magic law, Newt re­sponds: “I don’t do sides.”

The events of The Crimes of Grindel­wald will test Newt, just as they will any­one try­ing to fol­low its many strands. The hunt is on for at least three char­ac­ters – the miss­ing Quee­nie, the on-the-lam Grindel­wald and Cre­dence Bare­bone (Eza Miller), the pow­er­ful but volatile or­phan who spends much of the film seek­ing an­swers to his iden­tity. He’s the Anakin Sky­walker of Fan­tas­tic Beasts, whose soul is fought for by both sides.

If all of this sounds like a lot, it most def­i­nitely is, and that’s not even men­tion­ing Jude Law join­ing in as a young Al­bus Dum­ble­dore, who turns out to be aw­fully rogu­ishly hand­some un­der that ZZ-top beard. But our time here with him is short, just as it is with so many char­ac­ters who – to the film’s credit – we yearn for more of (Fogler’s Ja­cob, es­pe­cially). There is a flicker of a flash­back that hints at a lon­gago, maybe-sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween Dum­ble­dore and Grindel­wald; it would be the film’s most in­trigu­ing reve­la­tion if it wasn’t merely baited for fu­ture in­stall­ments.

Sib­lings are ev­ery­where in The Crimes of Grindel­wald. Just as in the houses of Hog­warts, Rowl­ing delights in du­al­ity and the in­ter­play of light and dark. Even within the Aurors there are com­pet­ing method­olo­gies of law en­force­ment to face the grow­ing threat. Newt is car­ried along like an avatar of sym­pa­thy: he be­lieves that ev­ery beast can be tamed, that ev­ery trauma can be healed.

Rowl­ing’s only source ma­te­rial go­ing into the Fan­tas­tic Beasts films was a slen­der 2001 book in the guise of a Hog­warts text­book. But she has, with her mighty wand, sum­moned an im­pres­sively vast if con­vo­luted world, one that’s never timid in ex­plor­ing the dark­ness be­neath its en­chant­ing ex­te­rior. And, with Yates again at the helm, The Crimes of Grindel­wald is of­ten daz­zling, oc­ca­sion­ally won­drous and al­ways at­mo­spheric. But is also a bit of a mess. Even magic bags can be over­weight.

Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald, a Warner Bros. re­lease, is rated PG-13 for some fan­tasy ac­tion vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 134 min­utes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.