FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 -- J.K. Rowling became the fastest woman to become a billionaire by churning out the extremely profitable Harry Potter series and milking the audience for seven books and eight films. Then she dropped off the Forbes billionaire list because she was far too charitable and the UK has a monstrous tax system. As the old Dunlin Donuts commercial used to say..."Time to make the donuts."


J.K. went back to the desk and wrote what she calls the prequel series to Harry Potter - Fantastic Beasts - featuring a reluctant critter loving hero named Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne in the films). [NOTE: I won't draw attention to the fact that the first four letters of his last name is SCAM.] We met Newt in the first film, the relatively light and lively "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" which did a suitable job of introducing us to Newt and a couple of other folk, namely a guy name Grave (Colin Farrell) who turns out not to be Graves at all - in fact he wasn't even Farrell!


At the end we find out that Graves is actually an evil wizard named Grindelwald who is played by Johnny Depp but looks like Billy Idol. And while Newt thinks his job is to find hidden creatures amongst the muggles, it looks like his real job is to debunk Grindelwald.

By his side is the incredibly cute Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and coaxing him along is a young Dumbledore (who has transformed from Richard Harris to Michael Gambon and now to Jude Law). In this second installment we briefly visit Newt caring for some apparently injured critters but that moment of CGI magic shifts quickly to the convoluted plot of Grindelwald's efforts to enslave the muggles.


It seems Dumbledore is the only wizard powerful enough to defeat Grindelwald, but he just can't do it because of some hocus-pocus crap that requires Newt to work as his proxy. The plan is to bring back and introduce so many characters that Grindelwald will render Johnny Depp into mediocrity and collapse the entire narrative onto itself. I'm pretty sure that's the story, because you will be completely overwhelmed by the catalog of characters introduced in the two and a quarter hour run time of the film. However, the film leaves the concept of Fantastic Beasts and retreats back to being a Harry Potter Lite.


What is still incredible is director David Yates artistry in creating a fabulous fantasy world with cool little nuggets in every corner of ever frame. Even though the acton takes place in the muggle city of Paris this time, we get a enchanted city of lights that is as dark as Transylvania. We get all kinds of stuff whizzing by, crawling along and flying overhead. Very little explanation for them, but they are there.


We also get a strong performance from Redmayne as he tries in vain to decipher his role in this confusing mess. It's the kind of performance you'd expect from the Oscar winning actor. Jude Law on the other hand has mailed in this effort, as he has with all his roles of late; he truly hasn't turned a notable performance since "Road to Perdition" and "Cold Mountain" over a decade ago. Kravitz is incredibly cute again.


The film acts as a blatant placeholder for the series so that Warner Brothers can squeeze maybe another $2.3 billion out of a J.K. Rowlings book series. Good luck on that!


"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" has very little going for it other than great CGI sets and a way to get J.K. Rowlings back to being a billionaire. Whatever there is of a story implodes on itself with the clutter of endless undeveloped characters.   -- GRADE C --   GEOFF BURTON