Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a follow-up to the 2016 Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, manages to replicate some of the first movie’s charm — the beasts are pretty fantastic — but it wrecks most of that goodwill by succumbing to the cumbersome (and ultimately counterproductive) way in which J.K. Rowling tends to retcon her own work, and the overwhelming effort exerted to set up a third Beasts movie. The flourishes that would distinguish the film, once again directed by Potter series stalwart David Yates, are obliterated by its finale, in favor of an as-yet untitled sequel.

As it turns out, the true crime of Grindelwald was wasting the audience’s time.

That shallowness is echoed by the film’s attempted political allegories. After a laughably short imprisonment, wizard-Hitler Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is back on the loose, and once again shoring up support for his crusade to rid the world of non-magical peoples (aka “no-majs” aka “can’t-spells”). Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who hems and haws about joining the fray, is told by his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) that he must “choose a side.” As true as it is that inaction is, in and of itself, a form of action, any attempted depth by Rowling (who wrote the screenplay) is scuttled by late-game twists that seem to ask the audience to empathize with the wizarding equivalent of Nazi sympathizers and…

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