Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (PG)
134 minutes/Opens on Thursday (Nov 15)/2.5 stars
The story: Following the events of the first Fantastic Beasts film (2016), Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is now in the hands of the magical authorities. But he finds a way to summon his army of wizard supporters, all bent on subjugating non-magical beings under their rule. Lines are drawn for a battlet will pullin Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and his former teacher at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).
If the first movie (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) was anything to go by, it set up the expectation that this series was going to be mostly about Newt (Redmayne) doing a David Attenborough-like tour of the world's magical animal enclaves.
Welcome to film two. Suddenly, war happens, people die.
The abrupt tonal shift will remind viewers of the Harry Potter series, to which this forms a prequel.
Is this lurching deliberate or just bad pacing? There is a clue to the answer in the opening scene.
Prisoner Grindelwald, while being transported in a flying paddy wagon pulled by a team of horse-bat hybrid creatures, attempts an escape.
This reviewer saw the 3D version of the film and the action scene that ensues flouts a rule in 3D film-making: no rapid edits or changes in perspective.
The seizure-inducing cuts and crazy angles, all done for its own sake, felt as though one were taking a torture test designed to weed out weaklings from an astronaut training program. By the end of it, one felt ready for the washout lane.
The sins of twitchy framing are repeated a few more times in the film, and it points to both director David Yates' shaky grasp of cinematic basics and a need to insert digital-effects spectacles to pad out an undernourished story.
There is a feeling of things being either too much or too little. For example, a small army of new characters appear (Newt's brother, among others). Their reasons for being there will no doubt be made clear somewhere on the way to the fifth and final movie in the series, due in 2024.
Until then, one has to trust that there is a reason to care about the new ensemble of side players, because the manner in which they have been parachuted in, to have their dramatic arcs go from zero to 90km/hdoes not leave one feeling charitable.
A good portion of the film's time is also spent in fan-service segments, with flashbacks to Hogwarts, and the recruitment of Dumbledore.
For all that, Redmayne's Scamander, the good wizard with a social anxiety problem, is still a likeable fellow, and it is easy to get on his side.
Depp, on the other hand, plays fascist wizard Grindelwald the same way he plays too many of his baddies - with an aristocratic accent and icy stare and not much else. No one is asking for a muah-ha-ha laugh or moustache twirling, but his performance is about as magical as week-old bread.
Watch the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs