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Fantastic Beasts reviews round-up: What critics are saying about the new Harry Potter spin-off instalment

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The reviews are in for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

The second chapter of the Fantastic Beasts series – and the 10th instalment in the Wizarding World franchise that began in 2001 with the first Harry Potter film – stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein, and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski.

Also featured are Ezra Miller in the role of Credence Barebone, Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore, and Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald. David Yates, who directed the first Fantastic Beasts film in 2016, reprised his function for the second instalment. JK Rowling wrote the screenplay, as she did for the first film in the series.

Critics have been divided over Fantastic Beasts. While Yates’s directing and Rowling’s writing earned praise, several found the movie confusing and bogged down by two many plot lines.

Here’s what the reviews have said so far (spoiler warning)

The Independent

4/5

JK Rowling has written a fantastically complicated screenplay, full of brothers, sisters and star-crossed lovers who all have fraught relationships with one another. An explosive final reel, set around the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, only goes a certain distance toward making matters clearer. 

Like its predecessor, The Crimes of Grindelwald has some very dark moments which veer off into the realm of Fritz Lang-like film noir. These are interspersed with plenty of knockabout comedy. The performances are every bit as vivid as the special effects. Director David Yates and his team show their now expected levels of virtuoso craftsmanship. In terms of production values, this is Rolls Royce filmmaking. The film boasts an astonishing level of visual detail and inventiveness. The only drawback is that Rowling has included so many different characters and sub-plots that the narrative momentum is sometimes lost. (Geoffrey Macnab)

The Guardian

3/5

Rowling’s Wizarding World epic includes specific references to the Hogwarts universe that we already know and love, younger versions of the old characters, and so in some ways has a more prequelised look, with hints of an origin myth. But as so often with fantasy adventure, the stormclouds are rolling in and the story is inexorably weighted towards a titanic battle of good and evil. It is just as spectacular as the wonderful opening film, with lovingly realised creatures, witty inventions and sprightly vignettes. But I couldn’t help feeling that the narrative pace was a little hampered, and that we are getting bogged down, just a bit, in a lot of new detail. (Peter Bradshaw)

The Telegraph

2/5

Everything about The Crimes of Grindelwald is inward-looking and self-referential: it smacks of an epic join-the-dots game played across reams of unpublished appendices and footnotes. The result is one of the gravest cases of prequel-itis since Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in which in place of ordinary storytelling, a chessboard’s-worth of characters and objects are fussily rearranged over the course of two hours plus change, in order to set the stage for whatever comes next. (Robbie Collin)

Digital Spy

(Mixed)

Written by JK Rowling herself, the film is a beautiful return to the Wizarding World, with plenty of magical moments and twisty lore to keep fans interested. But, as a middle film in a five-part series, it sometimes struggles under the pressure of juggling numerous storylines and manoeuvring its cast into place for later movies. (Hugh Armitage)

Den of Geek

3/5

The latest instalment of JK Rowling’s 5-part Harry Potter prequel is a magical adventure, an immersive dip back into the Wizarding World, packed with wonder and delight, which should elicit warm memories and Christmassy feels. Like a visit to Warner Bros “Making of Harry Potter” Studio Tour, the set pieces, the stunning visuals, the world building and the sheer attention to detail will blow your socks off. But like the WB tour, there’s too many people and you don’t go there for the plot. (Rosie Fletcher) 

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1/17 17. The Ladykillers (2004)

The first film in which Joel and Ethan Coen shared both producing and directing credits; previously Joel had always been credited as director and Ethan as producer. A largely pointless remake of the classic Ealing comedy, this has some funny moments and Tom Hanks gives a committed performance in the Alec Guinness role – but one can’t help but wonder why they bothered.

Touchstone Pictures

2/17 16. Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

The film that preceded ‘The Ladykillers’, this was the siblings’ first job as writers-for-hire. Tapping into a similar vein of screwball comedy to Preston Sturges’s work in the Forties, it has a formidable cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Geoffrey Rush are excellent. Yet this is a rare Coen comedy that does not stand up to a repeat viewing.

Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

3/17 15. Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Audiences felt misled by ‘Hail, Caesar!’ due to its panoply of Hollywood stars and laugh-heavy trailer. The result was a huge discrepancy in enjoyment between the critics and the punters. A love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, this is one of their lighter efforts, but some of the recreations of film styles of yore are dazzling.

4/17 14. Burn After Reading (2008)

This one finds the lads in a playful mood: a spy caper populated with idiotic characters portrayed by the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich (the latter’s pronunciation of “memoir” is a highlight). The plot is less important than the dialogue, characterisation and jokes. Pitt shows a real aptitude for comedy as a dim-witted fitness instructor.

5/17 13. True Grit (2010)

Some see ‘True Grit’ as a poor man’s ‘No Country for Old Men’, but this is a more faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel than the John Wayne version. The Coens, so often accused of cynicism, have rarely produced anything more heartfelt. Hailee Steinfeld, in her breakthrough role, is staggeringly good as a teenager attempting to avenge the murder of her father.

REX

6/17 12. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

There are those who consider this gangster flick — released in the same year as Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ — to be the Coens’ peak achievement. Slow and contemplative, the film contains two of the greatest moments in the entire Coen filmography: John Turturro in the woods and Albert Finney under the bed. Scorsese would later direct the pilot episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire’, a television show with more than a hint of ‘Miller’s Crossing’.

20th Century Fox

7/17 11. Raising Arizona (1987)

The opening 11 minutes of the Coens’ sophomore effort — before the title even appears — is one of the most beautiful, hilarious and perfectly executed sequences in modern cinema. Nicolas Cage didn’t enjoy the experience of making ‘Raising Arizona’ since the filmmakers allow their actors very little leeway in terms of improvisation. Holly Hunter has rarely been better and this contains some of the funniest Coen scenes.

20th Century Fox

8/17 10. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coens attempt at a family film (“you know, for kids”) that was expected to make waves at the box office but proved a flop, perhaps partly as a result of its idiosyncratic title. This is a comedy with shades of Sturges and Frank Capra. The flashback involving the tailor might be the most perfect gag in the entire Coen canon.

Universal Pictures

9/17 9. Barton Fink (1991)

John Turturro stars as Barton Fink, a playwright attempting to write a screenplay in a deserted hotel while wrestling with his demons and/or John Goodman. Sharp, with a good dose of pathos, it deservedly won the Palme d’Or in 1991. That the Coens decided to make a film about writer’s block while they themselves were struggling to complete ‘Miller’s Crossing’ means there’s a personal element to it, too (“I’ll show you the life of the mind,” says Goodman’s Charlie Meadows).

10/17 8. A Serious Man (2009)

A favourite with fans, this begins in a 19th-century Eastern European shelter and ends with the disclaimer that “No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture”. In between, we are treated to the Coens’ most personal film, pitched somewhere between the ‘Book of Job’ and Saul Bellow’s ‘Herzog’. Michael Stuhlbarg is mesmerising as a Minnesotan physics professor who sees his life fall apart in 1967.

11/17 7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The title may be a reference to Sullivan’s Travels, and the plot inspired by Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, but this is an astonishingly original musical that stands as the most joyous film in the siblings’ filmography. The soundtrack won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and this sepia-tinted tale of convicts on the run during the Great Depression never fails to lift the spirits.

Touchstone/Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

12/17 6. Blood Simple (1984)

The maverick filmmakers burst onto the scene with one of the most accomplished debuts in the history of the medium. Shot in just eight weeks, this is a startlingly violent neo-noir with moments of pure horror and that streak of bleak fatalism that would become a recurring theme.

13/17 5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Quite possibly the film of the decade, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ stars Oscar Isaac as a folk singer struggling to make ends meet in and around the Greenwich Village scene of 1961. For anyone who’s ever embarked on a creative pursuit and was worried that talent alone might not be enough, this is more terrifying than any horror.

14/17 4. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

The Coens most underrated film, ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ was inspired by a poster showing various haircuts from the 1940s that the brothers came across while shooting ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’. Billy Bob Thornton has never been better than he is playing Ed Crane, a quiet barber who suspects his wife of having an affair and becomes embroiled in the kind of classic noir perfected by Billy Wilder.

Working Title/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

15/17 3. No Country for Old Men (2007)

A crime classic cut from the same cloth as ‘Fargo’ and ‘Blood Simple’, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. It is the Coens’ most taut film and their most critically acclaimed this century. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is a cinematic villain for the ages.

16/17 2. Fargo (1996)

Deftly blending comedy and horror, this timeless crime caper propelled the Coens into the mainstream and spawned a widly successful television series. The screenplay won an Oscar; so, too, did Frances McDormand (wife of Joel) for her terrific performance as the pregnant police chief investigating a double homicide in Minnesota, birthplace of the filmmakers.

17/17 1. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Creedence. White Russians. Bowling. We end where we began, and while some will argue that the Coen brothers have made deeper, wiser and worthier films – that’s just, like, their opinion, man. This is their funniest work and, after a lacklustre reception, its reputation has grown to the point where it is now the quintessential cult movie. More importantly, for large swathes of us, it is absolutely guaranteed to ensure a good mood. The film, like its hero and the brothers behind it, abides.

Rex Features

1/17 17. The Ladykillers (2004)

The first film in which Joel and Ethan Coen shared both producing and directing credits; previously Joel had always been credited as director and Ethan as producer. A largely pointless remake of the classic Ealing comedy, this has some funny moments and Tom Hanks gives a committed performance in the Alec Guinness role – but one can’t help but wonder why they bothered.

Touchstone Pictures

2/17 16. Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

The film that preceded ‘The Ladykillers’, this was the siblings’ first job as writers-for-hire. Tapping into a similar vein of screwball comedy to Preston Sturges’s work in the Forties, it has a formidable cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Geoffrey Rush are excellent. Yet this is a rare Coen comedy that does not stand up to a repeat viewing.

Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

3/17 15. Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Audiences felt misled by ‘Hail, Caesar!’ due to its panoply of Hollywood stars and laugh-heavy trailer. The result was a huge discrepancy in enjoyment between the critics and the punters. A love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, this is one of their lighter efforts, but some of the recreations of film styles of yore are dazzling.

4/17 14. Burn After Reading (2008)

This one finds the lads in a playful mood: a spy caper populated with idiotic characters portrayed by the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich (the latter’s pronunciation of “memoir” is a highlight). The plot is less important than the dialogue, characterisation and jokes. Pitt shows a real aptitude for comedy as a dim-witted fitness instructor.

5/17 13. True Grit (2010)

Some see ‘True Grit’ as a poor man’s ‘No Country for Old Men’, but this is a more faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel than the John Wayne version. The Coens, so often accused of cynicism, have rarely produced anything more heartfelt. Hailee Steinfeld, in her breakthrough role, is staggeringly good as a teenager attempting to avenge the murder of her father.

REX

6/17 12. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

There are those who consider this gangster flick — released in the same year as Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ — to be the Coens’ peak achievement. Slow and contemplative, the film contains two of the greatest moments in the entire Coen filmography: John Turturro in the woods and Albert Finney under the bed. Scorsese would later direct the pilot episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire’, a television show with more than a hint of ‘Miller’s Crossing’.

20th Century Fox

7/17 11. Raising Arizona (1987)

The opening 11 minutes of the Coens’ sophomore effort — before the title even appears — is one of the most beautiful, hilarious and perfectly executed sequences in modern cinema. Nicolas Cage didn’t enjoy the experience of making ‘Raising Arizona’ since the filmmakers allow their actors very little leeway in terms of improvisation. Holly Hunter has rarely been better and this contains some of the funniest Coen scenes.

20th Century Fox

8/17 10. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coens attempt at a family film (“you know, for kids”) that was expected to make waves at the box office but proved a flop, perhaps partly as a result of its idiosyncratic title. This is a comedy with shades of Sturges and Frank Capra. The flashback involving the tailor might be the most perfect gag in the entire Coen canon.

Universal Pictures

9/17 9. Barton Fink (1991)

John Turturro stars as Barton Fink, a playwright attempting to write a screenplay in a deserted hotel while wrestling with his demons and/or John Goodman. Sharp, with a good dose of pathos, it deservedly won the Palme d’Or in 1991. That the Coens decided to make a film about writer’s block while they themselves were struggling to complete ‘Miller’s Crossing’ means there’s a personal element to it, too (“I’ll show you the life of the mind,” says Goodman’s Charlie Meadows).

10/17 8. A Serious Man (2009)

A favourite with fans, this begins in a 19th-century Eastern European shelter and ends with the disclaimer that “No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture”. In between, we are treated to the Coens’ most personal film, pitched somewhere between the ‘Book of Job’ and Saul Bellow’s ‘Herzog’. Michael Stuhlbarg is mesmerising as a Minnesotan physics professor who sees his life fall apart in 1967.

11/17 7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The title may be a reference to Sullivan’s Travels, and the plot inspired by Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, but this is an astonishingly original musical that stands as the most joyous film in the siblings’ filmography. The soundtrack won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and this sepia-tinted tale of convicts on the run during the Great Depression never fails to lift the spirits.

Touchstone/Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

12/17 6. Blood Simple (1984)

The maverick filmmakers burst onto the scene with one of the most accomplished debuts in the history of the medium. Shot in just eight weeks, this is a startlingly violent neo-noir with moments of pure horror and that streak of bleak fatalism that would become a recurring theme.

13/17 5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Quite possibly the film of the decade, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ stars Oscar Isaac as a folk singer struggling to make ends meet in and around the Greenwich Village scene of 1961. For anyone who’s ever embarked on a creative pursuit and was worried that talent alone might not be enough, this is more terrifying than any horror.

14/17 4. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

The Coens most underrated film, ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ was inspired by a poster showing various haircuts from the 1940s that the brothers came across while shooting ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’. Billy Bob Thornton has never been better than he is playing Ed Crane, a quiet barber who suspects his wife of having an affair and becomes embroiled in the kind of classic noir perfected by Billy Wilder.

Working Title/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

15/17 3. No Country for Old Men (2007)

A crime classic cut from the same cloth as ‘Fargo’ and ‘Blood Simple’, this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. It is the Coens’ most taut film and their most critically acclaimed this century. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is a cinematic villain for the ages.

16/17 2. Fargo (1996)

Deftly blending comedy and horror, this timeless crime caper propelled the Coens into the mainstream and spawned a widly successful television series. The screenplay won an Oscar; so, too, did Frances McDormand (wife of Joel) for her terrific performance as the pregnant police chief investigating a double homicide in Minnesota, birthplace of the filmmakers.

17/17 1. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Creedence. White Russians. Bowling. We end where we began, and while some will argue that the Coen brothers have made deeper, wiser and worthier films – that’s just, like, their opinion, man. This is their funniest work and, after a lacklustre reception, its reputation has grown to the point where it is now the quintessential cult movie. More importantly, for large swathes of us, it is absolutely guaranteed to ensure a good mood. The film, like its hero and the brothers behind it, abides.

Rex Features

The Hollywood Reporter

(Positive)

The sequel has better and at times galvanizing special effects, a darker tone and a high-stakes battle between good and evil. Best of all, its characters are more vibrantly drawn, and tangled in relationships that range from delightful to lethal.

Crimes of Grindelwald also has some serious liabilities, the gravest being a misbegotten performance by Johnny Depp as the villain of the title. But unlike the first instalment, which felt like a strained effort to extend Rowling’s brand, this engaging film has a busy, kinetic style of its own. (Caryn James)

The Los Angeles Times

(Negative)

An excruciating bore just barely enlivened by stray glimpses of Hogwarts, a flicker of gay romance and a menagerie of computer-generated creepy-crawlies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is enough to make JK Rowling fans weep in frustration, provided they can even keep their eyes open. Presumably Rowling, her fellow producers and the top brass at Warner Bros. were thinking about those fans – meaning their capacity for pleasure and enchantment, not just their pocketbooks – when they decided to launch a series of prequels to their justly celebrated Harry Potter cycle.

Then again, who knows what they were thinking, judging by 2016’s rickety Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was written for the screen by Rowling herself and directed by David Yates with none of the grave, elegant atmospherics he brought to bear on the last four Potter films. (Justin Chang)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out on 16 November in the US and in the UK.

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