If you built a human being—which I am not explicitly encouraging—and forgot to give it a spine, it would still look like a person. Until it tried to stand or begged “Kill me! I shouldn’t be!” Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a spineless pile of subplots wearing a movie-suit. All the fun of footnotes being reenacted, often by an abusive chode, this is more needless proof that all prequels are exploitive, fan-fleecing garbage. If you want to continue profiting from a franchise, you should thoughtfully extend and add to the franchise. Do not lazily retrieve backstory like food waste from the trash and serve it to legions of fans desperate for another feast.

Here is the entirety of the main plot for Grindelwald: Magic Hitler (Johnny Depp) escapes from magic Alcatraz to recruit Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller)—which I swear is not a jokey name I put here but a real character’s actual name—so he can kill super-wizard Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and tear down the veil between the mortal and wizarding worlds. That plot again: A bad guy tries to find another bad guy to do bad things. The end.

The remainder of the, I want to say, 87 hours of screentime is filled with various characters either trying to figure out how characters are related to one another or engaging in groan-inducing romantic foibles. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) stutters through amorous affections for both Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) while Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) muddle through their muggle/magic comingling. The whole movie is people talking about relationships, interrupted by running from giant magical monsters, which admittedly do still look pretty cool.

Just as with this cash-grab spinoff’s first installment, J.K. Rowling’s script exposes the rot I’ve argued is at the core of her understandably beloved franchise. Her meticulous world-building has long masked the unoriginality of her generic, but well-crafted and well-timed, “hero’s journey” riff. Absent the wonder and awe of the original series, this is a flat, frequently ugly endeavor that feels more like a research paper that would have gotten a middling grade at Hogwarts.

Most grating of all is that Dumbledore remains Schrodinger’s homosexual. Rowling has explicitly stated he is gay, yet when she personally penned a script that hinges on his relationship with an alleged former lover, the subject is forcibly closeted. Countless more educated and talented writers have unpacked Rowling’s scores of problematic bumblings, but allow me to add another fart noise to the chorus.

I sincerely and profoundly adore the affinity that people have for the Harry Potter universe in all its incarnations, but dreck like Grindelwald can’t be what anyone wants. Given that box office returns all but guarantee the Fantastic Beasts franchise keeps dull and carries on, here’s hoping that Rowling and company remember the audacity of dreaming big. World War II with magic could be spectacular, provided it isn’t just two hours of Jude Law and Johnny Depp talking about wizard lineage while leaning on a tank barrel for the euphemism.

Grade = D+

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