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'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' review: Sequel with growing pains

Eddie Redmayne, left, who plays Newt Scamander, and

Eddie Redmayne, left, who plays Newt Scamander, and Callum Turner, who portrays Theseus Scamander, in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

PLOT A dangerous wizard lays plans for world domination.

CAST Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Katherine Waterston

RATED PG-13 (scary imagery and violence)

LENGTH 2:14

BOTTOM LINE A dark but entertaining second chapter in J.K. Rowling's five-film series.

Ah, the follow-up to the major blockbuster: Sometimes you get a near-improvement like “The Empire Strikes Back”; sometimes you end up with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Last year’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling’s spinoff from her “Harry Potter” juggernaut, was one such blockbuster, delivering a whole new world of magic that felt at once familiar and fresh. We knew it was a launch pad for what’s officially called the Wizarding World — there’s a new logo and everything — but now comes the moment of truth. The sequel, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” has arrived.

Our hero is still magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), still hesitantly courting the wizard cop Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), while our other favorite couple — psychic Queenie (Alison Sudol) and plain old Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) — are mushily in love. Wait, wasn’t Jacob’s memory wiped in the last film? “It didn’t work!” he says — a fairly unsatisfying explanation, and that’s not the only one. Credence (Ezra Miller), the creepy kid killed last year, somehow wasn’t. In fact, in this “Fantastic Beasts,” Credence is being stalked by Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a wizard-tyrant who wants to exploit the boy’s power.

What we have here are some serious second-movie problems. One is too many new characters who help drive the plot but slow the pace. That also means a multiplicity of storylines that get chopped into alternating chunks. The beasts are still fantastic, particularly the Zouwu, a kind of Chinese tiger-dragon with a glowing mane, but they mostly stay in Newt’s magical suitcase. On the plus side, Zoe Kravitz intrigues as Newt’s old flame, Leta Lestrange, and Jude Law is wonderful as a young, charming Albus Dumbledore.

If you’re among those who signed the petition to get Depp booted off this film, you may not be impressed by his Grindelwald, a serviceable if slightly cartoonish creation made mostly of bleached hair and mismatched contacts. Likewise, those who lobbied to bring Dumbledore out of the closet will be disappointed: “Fantastic Beasts” tiptoes up to the door but doesn’t fully open it.

Once again written by Rowling and directed by six-time “Potter” veteran David Yates, the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel strikes a much darker tone than the original, with many deaths, including that of a toddler and an infant. This is not the sparkling charmer we fell for last year, but the new Wizarding World is young yet and clearly has plenty more to offer.

Ready for more

Wondering where else you might have seen Eddie Redmayne, the freckle-faced actor who plays Newt Scamander in the “Fantastic Beasts” films? Here are four of his other best-known movies:

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011) Redmayne plays Colin Clark, an assistant on the 1957 film “The Prince and the Showgirl," who wrote a memoir about the time he spent with its star, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).

LES MISERABLES (2012) As a student revolutionary in 19th century France, Redmayne took his chances with this live-singing musical and — like Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and other castmates — received mixed reviews.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) Redmayne bounced back with his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant scientist whose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis put him a wheelchair but did not stop him from writing the best-selling book “A Brief History of Time.” Redmayne earned an Oscar for his performance.

THE DANISH GIRL (2016) This biopic about the painter Lili Elbe (Redmayne), one of the first people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, in the 1920s, drew controversy for its casting: Some felt that a transgender performer should have been given the starring role.

— RAFER GUZMAN

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