The reason the Harry Potter film series became a multibillion-dollar property was because it was based on an already hugely popular book series. The Fantastic Beasts series has no such built-in goodwill other than its tangential relationship to the Harry Potter universe. The first film in 2016 intrigued with the introduction of unfamiliar characters, but it’s put-up-or-shut-up time with the second of a planned five films, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
In the sequel, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has been banned from international travel after his escapades in New York in the first film. Naturally, that doesn’t last long when he discovers that auror and love interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is in Paris, helping in the search for Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who has escaped from custody.
And that’s about all that’s clear in the extremely confusing plot that finds old characters being clumsily re-introduced, new characters brought in with barely an introduction, and a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) shoehorned into the proceedings seemingly just to give the audience some kind of familiarity on which to grasp.
Anyone hoping for a similar combination of darkness and lightness that was in the first film will be disappointed as writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates go fully dark almost right away. Grindelwald’s quest to take over the world takes center stage, so other fun things like the relationship between Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Feldstein (Alison Sudol) are put on the backburner or turn into something much different.
Strangely, they also seem to turn away from the titular fantastic beasts. They definitely appear throughout, but their impact is limited to three different creatures, including a new one that looks like a Chinese dragon costume come to life. They return to the nifflers (platypus-type animals with a nose for shiny things) time and again as they are the only creatures that are easy enough to understand and ones whose skills prove useful to the plot.
After two films, Scamander now seems to be too timid of a character on which to hang an entire series. Anything heroic he does appears to happen almost by accident, and it’s other characters like Tina, Dumbledore, or Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), who provide inspiration when the time comes. Redmayne plays him well the way he’s written, but that doesn’t make him a great character.
It’s unclear what Rowling and the other filmmakers are going for in this series, but it has yet to match the enchantment of the Harry Potter series. Rowling is a great writer on the page, but the Fantastic Beasts films have not proved her worth as a screenwriter.