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[Herald Review] 2nd of ‘Fantastic Beasts’ trilogy will leave viewers divided

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ has nice elements, but feels like detour en route to grand adventure

“Empire Strikes Back” really is a wonder, isn’t it? In a cinema world where so many middle films in trilogies seem to bite the dust, caught between exposition and setup for the final episode, and plots moving only half-way forward, the iconic film really hit the spot with its beyond-awesome twist and gripping storyline.

No, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is not on par with “Empire,” but I ended up enjoying it. It is a beautiful-looking film with fun action and just enough winks for those familiar with the “Harry Potter” world to understand what is about to go down. At the same time, however, I can easily imagine millions being disappointed by it.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros. Korea)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros. Korea)

The film starts with Gellert Grindelwald -- the wizard world’s equivalent of Adolf Hitler -- escaping custody. Grindelwald starts scrimmaging through Paris in search of Credence Barebone, a young lost soul with immense power who is wandering around the city in search of his roots.

Newt Scamander also seeks to find Credence to help him, joined by the likes of Jacob Kowalski and Tina Goldstein.

Despite the world in peril, Albus Dumbledore, the only wizard in the world thought to be Grindelwald’s equal in power, refuses to fight his archenemy, who used to be his closest friend.

The synopsis reeks of the creators’ intent to turn a cute movie about funny little animals and loveable oddballs into an epic series, and I’d say it works for the most part. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” genuinely feels huge -- bigger than the “Harry Potter” movies themselves as the depiction of the magic is grittier and the action is grander.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros. Korea)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner Bros. Korea)

Director Dave Yates and his creative team managed to create a world that is beautiful to look at, yet doesn’t seem like it fell out of the pages of a fairy tale. The fights are quite creative -- rather than an endless parade of two adults pointing wooden sticks and shouting out nonsense words -- and Grindelwald’s spell in the final act reminds the viewer exactly why he should be feared, despite Johnny Depp’s weird albino look.

Actually, that final act and the escape in the opening sequence is about the extent of Grindelwald’s evilness shown onscreen, which is somewhat odd for a film titled “Crimes of Grindelwald.” Come to think of it, not much goes on in the film.

Sure, the characters do a lot and they mumble a ton of exposition, but the story doesn’t really move that much forward. It just sets up for the next film and how awesome it would be.

And why wouldn’t it be? The showdown of the most powerful wizards in the world with the entire world at stake, and reconciliation of the much-troubled main cast to finally find happiness; it will all be wrapped up in a neat little bow ... in the next film.

In this one? Please settle for “the great” Dumbledore disarming a student in a self-defense class.

Some people complain that there are not enough fantastic creatures but not enough human characters play a role in it either.

The chemistry between Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie Goldstein in the last film was an absolute gem, but this one has hardly any of it.

What is infuriating is that they work incredibly well in the precious small screen time they share. Newt and Tina look as awkwardly cute as ever, and the weirdly-off interaction between Jacob and Newt reminded me why people loved them so much. Don’t get used to it, however; these moments don’t last.

Some of the fascinating beasts leave a lasting impression, but one creature that falls flat is Claudia Kim’s Nagini. This was a character that had so much potential depth: She is a woman cursed to one day become a mindless beast, who later becomes the pet of the most evil wizard in the world and does so much in the “Harry Potter” stories. Yet her character is incredibly bland.

For a film that progresses surprisingly little, it is shockingly long. Yates once was criticized for leaving out too much of the book’s material in his “Harry Potter” films, but here he seems determined to include everything.

As long and bloated as the story is, however, it didn’t really bore me. It is still a joy to look at, from design and action to overflowing content of the magical world. The characters themselves are still very charming -- watching Eddie Redmayne’s awkward interaction with people never gets old -- and their development in the first film redeems the extreme underdevelopment in this one.

In a way, this series both benefits and is hurt by the grand nature of “Harry Potter” lore. People can follow what is going on because of their knowledge gained from other related content, but the trilogy has to address so many different points, resulting in the second movie having to set up so much rather than to tell its own story.

It all depends on what you expect of the film: If you can accept that this is only the beginning of the end, I think it’d be somewhat enjoyable as long as you don’t expect a masterpiece.

The film hits local theaters Wednesday. 

By Yoon Min-sik