10 December 2018 | bob-the-movie-man
Lestranger than fiction
I'd really love to tell you about the plot. I really would! But I would struggle to pull all the multitude of strands together from J.K. Rowling's story and coherently explain them to anyone. If Rowling had put ten thousand monkeys (not a million - it's no bloody Shakespeare) into a room with typewriters and locked the door I wouldn't be surprised.
Let me try at a high level..... The arch-criminal wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being tortured in 'Trump Tower', but manages to escape and flees to Paris in pursuit of a mysterious circus performer called Credence (Ezra Miller) and his bewitched companion Nagini (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) played fetchingly by Claudia Kim. Someone needs to stop him, and all eyes are on Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). But he is unable to do so, since he and Grindelwald are "closer than brothers" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). So a reluctant and UK-grounded Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is smuggled into the danger zone... which suits him just fine since his love Tina (Katherine Waterston) is working for the ministry there, and the couple are currently estranged due to a (topical) bout of 'Fake News'.
Throw in a potential love triangle between Newt, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and old Hogwart's schoolmate Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and about a half dozen other sub-plots and you have... well... a complete muggle - - sorry - - muddle.
Above all, I really can't explain the crux of the plot. A venerable diarrhoea of exposition in a crypt, during an inexplicably quiet fifteen minutes (given 'im-who-can-be-named is next door with about a thousand other people!) left me completely bewildered. A bizarre event at sea (no spoilers) would seem to make absolutely NO SENSE when considered with another reveal at the end of the film. I thought I must have clearly missed something... or I'd just not been intelligent enough to process the information.... or.... it was actually completely bonkers! Actually, I think it's the latter: in desperation I went on a fan site that tried to explain the plot. While it was explained there, the explanation aligned with what I thought had happened: but it made no mention of the ridiculousness of the random coincidence involved!
The film's a mess. Which is a shame since everyone involved tries really hard. Depp oozes evil very effectively (he proves that nicely on arriving in Paris, and doubles-down about 5 minutes later: #veryverydark). Redmayne replays his Newt-act effectively but once again (and I see I made the same comments in my "Fantastic Beasts" review) his character mumbles again so much that many of his lines are unintelligible.
I also complained last time that the excellent actress Katherine Waterston was criminally underused as the tentative love interest Tina. this trend unfortunately continues unabated in this film.... you'll struggle afterwards to write down what she actually did in this film.
Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol, looking for all the world in some scenes like Rachel Weisz) reprise their roles in a sub-plot that goes nowhere in particular.
Of the newcomers, Jude Law as Dumbledore is a class-act but has very little screen time: hopefully he will get more to do next time around. Zoë Kravitz impresses as Leta.
As you would expect from a David Yates / David Heyman Potter collaboration, the product design, costume design and special effects are all excellent. Some scenes are truly impressive - an 'explosion' in a Parisian garret is particularly spectacular. But special effects alone do not a great film make. Many reviews I've seen complain that this was a 'filler' film... a set-up film for the rest of the series. And I can understand that view. If you analyse the film overall, virtually NOTHING of importance actually happens: it's like the "Order of the Phoenix" of the prequels.
I dragged myself along to see this one because "I thought I should". The third in the series will really need to sparkle to make me want to see it. If J.K. Rowling were to take me advice (she won't - she NEVER returns my calls!) then she would sculpt the story-arc but leave the screenwriting to someone better. The blame for this one, I'm afraid, lies at Rowling's door alone.