Latest ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is a mixed bag of wonders

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Eddie Redmayne in a scene from "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Like the bottomless trunk totted by “magizoolologist” Newt Scamander, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a mixed bag of wonders.

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) can reach into his suitcase and, like Mary Poppins before him, pull out just about anything. And it sometimes feels as though J.K. Rowling — a screenwriter here for the second time — is similarly infatuated by her unending powers of conjuring. In this overstuffed second film in the five-part Harry Potter prequel series, every solved mystery unlocks another, every story begets still more. Narratives multiply like randy Nifflers (one of the many species of creature in Newt’s bag).

The usual problem for spinoffs is their thinness or their unfulfilled justification — especially ones that stretch an already much-stretched tale. (There were eight Potter movies.) But neither are issues in the two “Fantastic Beasts” films, each directed by former “Potter” hand David Yates. Both movies are rooted in purpose. “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” especially, is an impressively dark and urgent parable of supremacist ideology aimed squarely at today’s demagogues of division. And neither film lacks in density of detail, character or story.

No, the only real crime of “Gindelwald” is its sheer abundance. In zipping from New York to London to Paris (with ministries of magic in each locale), this latest chapter in Rowling’s pre-Potter saga feels so eager to be outside the walls of Hogwarts (which also get a cameo) that it resists ever settling anywhere, or with any of its widely scattered characters — among them Newt, the conscientious dark magic investigator Tina (Katherine Waterston), the New Yorker no-maj Jacob (Dan Fogler), Tina’s sister and Jacob’s sweetheart Queenie (Alison Sudol) and the haunted former schoolmate of Newt’s, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz)

No one does the foreboding sense of a looming battle better than Rowling. Now, it’s the rise of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), freshly escaped from prison, who casts a lengthening shadow over the land. With a blond shock of hair and a ghostly white face, Grindelwald is Rowling’s magical version of a white nationalist, only he believes in the elevation of wizards — “purebloods” — over those who lack magical powers, or “no-majes.”

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence. Running time: 134 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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