Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Like a hugely dull work bash

Review: JK Rowling’s yarn plays like a fragmented fan fiction assembled through Twitter

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
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Director: David Yates
Cert: 12A
Genre: Fantasy
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Zoe Kravitz, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner, Jude Law, Claudia Kim
Running Time: 2 hrs 14 mins

David Yates's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a bit of a marvel. Few spin-offs have located such attractive worlds in the orbit of the mother planet. Located largely in a delightful heightening of prohibition-era New York, all Brooklyn broads and dangerous alleyways, the picture honoured the Harry Potter universe while introducing four attractive new characters. The titular animals were a hoot. The plot never got too shaggy. Crucially, no huge investment in Potter "lore" was required to get on board with the fun.

That's all over. You may have seen a poster for Attack of the Grumbleweeds (or whatever it's called) that features about 15 characters arranged in a threatening line. The image offers an unintentionally accurate impression of the film itself. We've barely been introduced to some uninteresting official before another is shuffled busily into their place.

At its worst the picture suggests a hugely busy, hugely dull work bash with no wine and insufficient Twiglets. People do, at least, wear name tags at such things. No such clues are provided here.

The march of nonpersonalities serves to bury many of the characters we liked so much from the first film. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the zoologist with the bottomless bag, is still in every second frame, but the script leans too hard on his eccentricity and, though flirtations are many, gives him few opportunities for emotional connection. An early ride on a seaweedy creature appears to have been invented merely to justify the film's status as a Fantastic Beasts episode. Anyway, Eddie's there.


Katherine Waterston, who was so charming as Tina the Auror, is less fortunate. Relegated to a supporting role, she fights to make herself heard above the deafening hubbub of subplots. Zoë Kravitz does good work as a former schoolmate of Newt's who is now engaged to his brother (Callum Turner). Jude Law is tolerable as a fleetingly glimpsed young Dumbledore. Our own Olwen Fouéré is charismatic as an unflinching official. In the role of evil Gellert Grindelwald, Johnny Depp proves – for the 453rd time, by my calculation – that he is criminally incapable of approximating an English accent. ("Friend" still comes out as "frind".)

Far from offering pleasures to the average muggle, the new film plays like a fragmented fan fiction assembled through Twitter. A bit here. A bit there. It says something that the controversy surrounding the casting of Claudia Kim as a snake woman will be impenetrable to anybody not already marinated in Potterology. So fleeting is the characterisation that it proves hard to care about the several revelations that close out the final act.

Still, one must grudgingly admit that, some ropy CGI towards the close excepted, the craft and tech work are a credit to all involved. Colleen Atwood deserves a fifth Oscar for the heavenly costumes. Philippe Rousselot's cinematography spreads a delicious chocolatey gloom about every corner. There are no bad performances from people with names other than Johnny.

To what end? Whereas the first film had great fun with New York iconography, Attack of the Grumbleweeds makes no effort to connect with the supposed Paris locations. A late visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery could be taking place in any murky location in any ancient city. Worse still are the hopelessly clumsy efforts to connect Grindelwald with current populist despots. (You can guess which we mean.) JK Rowling, again writing her own script, gives Depp an absurdly clunky speech that, after passing through crude simulacrums for racist button-pushing, ends in a bellicose blend of Adolf Hitler and the warden from Dad's Army. Bloody hooligans! I'm not sure there's any way back from here.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens on Friday, November 16th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist