Audiences have grown accustomed by now to Marvel Studios’ post-credit sequences. With their winking, almost smug, ‘for the fans’ tone, they’re fun ways to fan the flames of excitement for the next instalment in the gargantuan series and, maxing out at about 90 seconds, never outstay their welcome. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald tries to pull off the same trick as these little snippets for a full two-plus hour film and, in doing so, woefully fails at telling an interesting or comprehensible story of its own. It’s pure fan service to the point that it shatters the pre-established logic and timelines of its own, previously meticulously crafted, universe.
Picking up a couple of months after the ending of the first Fantastic Beasts, Grindelwald takes magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to Paris, in search of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). Styled like a slightly more flamboyant member of America’s Nazi ‘alt-right’ movement, Grindelwald is holding Trump-esque rallies to stoke tensions between pure-blood magic users and the ‘inferior’ race of normal humans, aka Muggles. Keeping a close eye on this, but unable to make his own move, a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, charismatic but underused) charges Newt with a dangerous mission to ensure Grindelwald doesn’t get his hands on magical superweapon.
This central story is weighed down by myriad sub-plots that do nothing but convolute proceedings. The non-Newt heroes of the first film are cast aside (and, in one case, horribly betrayed) in favour of a baffling and pointless series of revelations about the family tree of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), an auror and former sweetheart of Newt’s. Grindelwald’s final act is nothing but endless exposition, and there’s a truly heart-sinking moment when you realise that absolutely none of the stories it sets in motion will be resolved until at least the next film in this planned five part series.
There’s a thoughtlessness that pervades every part of JK Rowling’s script – often directly contradicting established Harry Potter lore – and this is never more obvious than at Grindelwald’s rallies. Both Rowling and wizarding world veteran director David Yates have defended Depp’s casting, but to be openly political about America’s lurch to the racist right wing in scenes led by a domestic abuser displays a jaw-dropping lack of awareness. Everyone involved also appears to have taken the ‘sequels go darker’ mantra far too literally, most action scenes obscured behind an inky black colour palette.
This is a particular shame, as Rowling’s universe continues to be beautifully designed – a magic robot hoover in particular is a delightful piece of retro-futurist wizard tech. Newt’s eponymous beasts play far less of a role this time out, their screentime eaten up by the ravenous prequel-itis that afflicts the story, but are still adorable, and absolutely the highlights of the film. Redmayne appears far more at home as a carer for these creatures than as the action hero Newt later becomes. There are some fun moments here that will entertain younger viewers, but it’s mostly a waste of time.