Jude Law

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

21/11/18

One thing is certain: this film will have its fans. Enthusiastic, excited fans, thrilled to be offered further insights into their beloved Potterverse. It’s sure to do well: even the Wednesday evening showing we’re at is sold out, and there’s not a kid in sight.

But that’s fine, because this isn’t really a kids’ film (although lots of them will love it too). This is squarely aimed at twenty-somethings: young adults who’ve grown up with the magical world existing alongside their own. This is a film for those grown-ups who know if they’re a Ravenclaw and proudly wear their house colours; who form the queues outside the now ubiquitous ‘Boy Wizard’ shops; who know so much about Rowling’s realm that they’re not bewildered by the huge cast of characters, nor by the casual references to familial relationships. This film is for them, and they are vast in number.

But it’s not for me. I’m not exactly a nay-sayer: I loved the first three Harry Potter books, and thought the others were okay. I quite liked the films too. I understand why they’re popular. But this latest instalment of the Fantastic Beasts spin-off is a step too far for the casual viewer, and it fails to work as a film in its own right.

I wasn’t keen on the last one, but at least it stuck to its remit: it was definitely about the beasts. This time, they’re peripheral; instead, we’re stuck in a world of dull politicking, with clumsy parallels to the rise of the far right. It’s worthy but hardly insightful, and it’s lacking any lightness or sparkle. It just doesn’t feel very magical at all.

Redmayne plays Eddie Redmayne very well; he’s had a lot of practice. He’s up to his usual schtick: all downcast eyes and vulnerability. I’d like to see him trying something else – and I’d like to see Newt develop too. Otherwise, the acting is pretty good, but no one has enough to do: Jude Law is wasted as young Dumbledore. Queenie (Alison Sudol) was my favourite character in the last movie, but she’s far more muted here, and less engaging as a result.

It all looks splendid, of course: the detail is stunning and the world well-realised. But it’s a boring story, with too many people and not enough animals. Enough already. Potter’s legacy should be better than this.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Advertisements

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

20/05/17

Oh dear. The relatively low key advance publicity for this has already led me to suspect that all might not be well in the King Arthur camp, and now there’s word that it has under-performed badly in the USA, making it Warner Brothers’ most expensive flop in a long time. While it’s very easy to be wise after the event, it’s pretty clear from a single viewing that the film’s major problem is the director’s inability to stick within a chosen genre.

It opens in full Lord of the Rings mode as the evil sorcerer, Mordred (Rob Knighton), launches an all-out attack on Camelot, complete with thousands of troops and several giant battle elephants. It’s clear at a glance where most of the film’s massive budget has been spent. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) uses his magical sword Excalibur to defeat Mordred, but he is unaware that his brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), is in league with the forces of darkness (those constant nosebleeds should have been a dead giveaway). Vortigern kills Uther and his wife, but their infant son Arthur, escapes in a boat and drifts downstream to Londinium, where he is adopted by a prostitute and grows up in a brothel. Next, we are treated to one of those montage sequences that director Guy Ritchie is so fond of, depicting the little boy’s eventful passage to manhood, which naturally involves plenty of bare knuckle fighting; some martial arts training, courtesy of resident king fu expert, George (Tom Wu); and a fondness for making money. Pretty soon the boy has grown up to be Charlie Hunnam and we’re in a different kind of movie altogether.

Now it’s Lock Stock and One Flaming Broadsword as Arthur interacts with his crew, all of whom talk like they’re in a contemporary cockney gangster movie and most of whom rejoice under comedy names – Wet Stick, Back Lack and Mischief John to name but three. At this point, Arthur is a bit of a Dark Ages Arthur Daly, wheeling and dealing with the Viking oppressors and steering well clear of ‘The Blacklegs,’ who are Vortigern’s men. But of course, it’s only a matter of time before Excalibur rears its handsome hilt, when it is discovered protruding from a block of stone. If Vortigern had any sense, he’d have hidden it but instead, desperate to locate his brother’s missing son, he insists that every man in the kingdom must attempt to wield the sword, a ceremony which is presided over by a Blackleg called Trigger (David Beckham, in a mercifully brief cameo). The rest is, of course, legend…

But Ritchie seems incapable of keeping the good ship Excalibur on a steady course. One moment Arthur and his posse are being diamond geezers, the next Vortigern is communing with some slimy creatures from the bottom of an underground pond, and then Arthur is having visions under the influence of ‘The Mage’ (Astrid Berges Frisbey, nabbing what amounts to pretty much the only half-decent role for a woman in the entire film). A scene where Arthur and his gang are planning to sneak into Camelot could have stepped straight out of a contemporary heist movie, and yet, for the finale, we’re back to epic fantasy again as Vortigern takes on the guise of a giant warrior, looking to eliminate his only challenger for the throne of England.

To be fair, the film has a few memorable scenes – there’s a lovely sequence featuring the Lady of the Lake and there’s no doubting the majesty of that opening battle. But overall, this is too scattershot to be convincing. As for Hunnam (last seen as Sir Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z), well, he makes a decent fist of his starring role, but sadly he’s battling more than just his onscreen adversaries in this one.

Ritchie has pitched Legend of the Sword as the first of a four-part series, but judging by this opening salvo, I’m hoping (to paraphrase a line from Love and Death) that he hasn’t already put a down payment on the battlefield.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney