It’s not difficult to see the parallel J.K.Rowling is trying to draw by making the titular villain of her latest a rabble-rouser. A demagogue whose power lies not in magic tricks, but in seducing common folk through speeches and rallies. It’s a potent idea. She is mirroring the terrors of our world to make her ever-growing fan base aware of the clear and present danger.
The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second entry into the supposed five-part Fantastic Beasts series has this and many other such thoughts. These ideas ― some political and most visual ― keep searching for a cohesion. Unfortunately, there isn’t any.
And this can be traced back to Rowling herself. She has started showing signs of that dreaded George Lucas syndrome that almost killed the joy of Star Wars. If we had an inkling of the fear that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was all about servicing her hungry fan base, The Crimes of Grindelwald only serves to crystalise that fear.
There are tons of information about this world, offered to you faster than you can say Avada Kedavra, and answers and explanations to questions almost no one asked. By the time you’re half-an-hour into the film, you know you’re being set up for a franchise.
Of course, Marvel has also set up film after film to build a larger universe. But each of their entries had a sense of entirety in them. Rowling instead of going the Marvel way, falls for the Lucas trap. She offers details, mines flashbacks in a film that’s supposed to a prequel, and keeps bobbing about Grindelwald as that supervillain, but the awareness that the climax of this film will not result into that big fight reduces the stakes.
Rowling despite being the author of the books stayed away from penning the scripts of the Harry Potter series. Her words contained the unique universe of magic and wonder which were shaped wonderfully for the screen by Steve Kloves and Michael Goldenberg. But then she decided to pen the Fantastic Beasts series herself. Her expansive mind, though still churning wonderful ideas and images, has given in to narcissism.
If the first entry of this prequels had a nutty taste, the sequel has turned a meandering meal that keeps introducing new flavours without having any bearing on the aftertaste. New characters join the already swelling universe, talks of the ultimate good vs evil keep brewing in the atmosphere, but this constant drumroll results into a tepid dance that keeps the excitement reserved for later sequels.
For the second time, we’re in the company of Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, who loves the company of leafy water-beasts, kleptomaniac platypuses, little plant creatures and many more such marvels that only Rowling is capable of conjuring up. Of course we know more of such charmingly bizarre entities will join him.
The film begins with Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escaping from prison with a sweeping sequence of mid-air bravado, from where he moves to the French capital looking for accommodation, and new recruits.
A young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), teacher at Hogwarts has tasked Newt to hunt Grindelwald down. The wizarding world meanwhile is trying to nail Newt for not maintaining the law book, while going bonkers looking for Grindelwald.
We meet Newt’s loving brother Theseus (Callum Turner), whose fiance happens to be his old flame Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz). And Newt’s charming pals: Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler again stealing the scenes), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) join the bandwagon too. In the midst of all this is Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone looking for his identity, with his shapeshifter friend Nagini (Claudia Kim).
As you can see, these names are sugar cubes for the fanbase of the Potterverse who will possibly devour it all like a colony of ants. But all these hints, names, and information don’t tie up. The already knotty mythology gets more tangled, and the narrative doesn’t lift itself up beyond air-kissing the fans.
The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the last four Potter films with such visceral atmospheric beats, that he earned the trust of Rowling to take on the Fantastic Beasts franchise. But unlike the Potter films, this series doesn’t reign in the pouring information to suit the screen. It seems to exist only to exhaust the ink of the bestselling author’s excited pen.
Rowling’s idea of an unlikely hero in Newt is fascinating, but Redmayne’s muttering act has ceased to delight. It’s a laboured tumbler of mumbling. On the other hand, the dark wizard of Depp is a white-washed turn of sleepwalking, an incompetent portrayal of a supervillain who is presumably a persuasive figure. All we get is Depp’s done-to-death weird machinations.
Law, though terribly underused, keeps the charm quotient up with his waistcoat and pleasing delivery of words.
The adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione have bewitched millions, but this faux-anticipatory universe building of Fantastic Beasts is nowhere close to those tightly knitted plotty pleasures. But there are hints of future possibilities, like Dumbledore’s ‘more than friendship’ bond with Grindelwald. Perhaps with his closet door, the wonders can open up too. We can only hope.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder).
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