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Fantastic Beasts 2: Too much political metaphor and not enough magic

Clunky political metaphors and tangled plot lines suck the magic out of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. 

There were simple pleasures to be had in 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A jaunty prequel to the Harry Potter series, it followed Eddie Redmayne as the awkward, savant-ish Newt Scamander – a “magi-zoologist” more at home with nifflers and bowtruckles than human beings.

Those joys are fleeting in this sequel, a bloated, chaotic and confused saga. It takes the worst aspects of JK Rowling’s universe and doubles down on them – prophesied bloodlines, convenient spells, globe-conquering evil – while ignoring the enchantment.

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The doom-monger-in-chief, revealed at the end of Fantastic Beasts, is Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, a truly fantastic beast if ever there was one. With pale hair, sharp cheekbones and mismatched eyes, he resembles a nefarious David Bowie.

He flees American custody for Paris, where Scamander and his mismatched pals (including the criminally underused Katherine Waterston) must hunt him down – with a helping hand from Jude Law’s young Albus Dumbledore. Thus, we get to visit the French Ministry of Magic. It’s much the same as the English one only more baroque, slightly ruder and, of course, there’s accordion music.

Between a swamp of waylaid narrative threads, baffling encounters and disposable characters, a shameless political metaphor enters, then overwhelms the frame. By the end, director David Yates is basically howling: “This is a movie for our times!”

Grindelwald speaks of the “birth right” of “purebloods” to rule. In a scene aping the Nazi-era propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl, he lectures a rally of uniformly black-clad followers by paraphrasing Mein Kampf: “Muggles are not lesser but other, not worthless but of other value.”

Late in the film, he flees to a castle in Austria called Nurmengard. And to combat him, our heroes collectively cast a spell that, to my ears anyway, sounded like “civilité!” I mean, really?

Here, the need to relate a fable with parallels to the present moment gets in the way of telling a decent story. Reality is bewildering enough. Leave poor Newt out of it.

Video: Warner Bros. Pictures



This article was first published in the December 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.