Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Directed by David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Zoë Kravitz
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action
2 hrs., 14 mins.

All sequels come with baggage: expectations from the original, the expansion of a story and, of course, in this case, the long history of Hogwarts and Harry Potter.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has a lot of baggage. The second in the Fantastic Beasts (FB) series. The tenth overall in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding stories. The prequel to the entire Harry Potter film line.

It’s getting complicated to follow, and Rowling as screenwriter has packed this particular film with enough characters to fill up Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry several times over. Even a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) makes his first appearance.

So, is this really a separate prequel, or are we watching Harry Potter in disguise? I don’t know, and this film doesn’t make it easy to answer that question.

Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the dark wizard who attacked New York City in the first FB, has been imprisoned in New York and is being transferred to London. He escapes with the help of an employee from the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA).

His plan is to locate and seduce Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), an orphaned wizard hiding in a Paris circus under the protection of his girlfriend-turned-snake, Nagini (Claudia Kim). Unbeknownst to Credence, he is believed to be the last heir in a pure line of wizards, and Grindelwald wants him as the leader of a new supreme order of wizards.

Meanwhile, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has been confined to London, his right to travel abroad revoked by the British Ministry of Magic. When he meets with the Ministry, it offers to restore his travel rights if he agrees to coordinate with the Ministry and his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner). Their goal: to locate Credence. Scamander refuses and his right to travel remains revoked. Not that this keeps him confined. As we have learned, Newt is not exactly a stickler for the rules.

As the story unfolds, the hunt for Credence converges in Paris. Grindelwald, aura Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), Newt, his baker friend, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) are all chasing him.

Is your head spinning yet? Well, this is a story of magic, but you can see how all these characters and their separate lives might get confusing. This movie begs you to do some research and since I didn’t, yes, my head was spinning.

But what about the fantastic creatures? Ah, there’s the major disappointment. In the first FB, we were delighted by Newt’s care of these magical creatures. Now, the creatures are used more as props for Rowling’s bigger and much darker story.

Not that we don’t catch glimpses here and there, such as the mischievous and thieving niffler and the shy bowtruckle. In addition, there’s a water creature called a kelpie, the flying zouwu, the demonic matagots, the mooselike leucrotta and the vulture-like augurey. But where’s the fun? The shift in tone means that these creatures appear only sporadically, and the delight of their relationship to Newt is overwhelmed.

While Redmayne as the shy and stubborn Newt continues to amaze, the beast of a story that he’s cast in turns FB from a magical wonderland to a stone castle.

Encumbered is the word I would use to describe this version of FB. It takes a while to discern that what we have here is not really a sequel to the first Fantastic Beasts, but a prequel to Harry Potter. It isn’t what I expected, and I suspect many others will find this film head scratching.

Still, if you love Newt, you’ll find enough fantasy, enchantment and even romance to hang in there. Just be prepared. This story is as dense as a London fog. Be prepared to wander a while. And don’t forget: As your parents always admonished, do your homework.