Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, the magozologist who was our guide to this magical world that’s older than the Potterverse by about 70 years, isn’t even the main character here. He is a careless and restless cog in the mechanism of the young Albus Dumbledore Law, who hatches plans in the cozy warmth of various vests and scarves. Dumbledore’s bad romance with the rising villain Gellert Grindelwald (Mikkelsen, who succeeded the troubled Johnny Depp) eventually bursts because Grindelwald has some dubious ideas about how to deal with Muggles: he wants to destroy them completely . «With or without you, I will burn their world to the ground, Albus,» he tells Dumbledore over a cup of fine tea. The racism of such purebloods, which became the theme of The Crimes of Grindelwald, becomes more pronounced here, especially in the setting of 1930s Berlin.
Now Dumbledore must stop him with the help of Newt, Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Newt’s assistant Bunty (Victoria Yates), Newt’s muggle baker friend Jacob (Dan Fogler, again an important source of kindness and comic relief) and the even-tempered and strong Hogwarts professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams, welcome addition). The tastefully decorated Art Deco train in which they lay out their plan is a perfect example of Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont’s consistently impressive production design; the street on the Lower East Side where Jacob’s bakery is located is another one. But nowhere is Tina Goldstein Katherine Waterston, supposedly the love of Newt’s life; her eventual screen time is so short that she may not have even bothered to visit the needlework table. Dumbledore also hires French wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadilam), Leta Lestrange’s half-brother, to infiltrate Grindelwald’s gang of young, smartly dressed fascists. Like many of the characters here, his role feels underdeveloped, but he is at the center of what is arguably the film’s most heartbreaking moment.
Ezra Miller also cuts in as Grindelwald’s minion Credence Barebone, whose true identity is supposedly one of Dumbledore’s secrets. (The other is that… Dumbledore is gay? What was hinted at in the second film and will remain a secret for audiences watching this film in China.) But the big stakes remain elusive, even in a film that is over two hours long. Miller brings a much-needed suspense to the role, but his presence is annoyingly distracting given reports of his recent unsettling off-screen behavior. It’s just another issue for this bland Covid-delayed series that supposedly has two more entire films in the works. It would take a lot of powerful magic to pull them off successfully.