Film reviews: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore | Murina | The Outfit

In spite of some pleasing turns from the all-star cast in this latest instalment, JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts franchise feels as if if may be running out of steam, writes Alistair Harkness

Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law , Catherine Waterson, Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Jessica Williams, Callum Turner, Jude Law , Catherine Waterson, Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (12A) **

Murina (15) **

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The Outfit (15) **

“The best plan is no plan,” says a character early on in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. “Or many overlapping plans,” adds another. They’re discussing the best way to take on the partially clairvoyant Grindelwald, but they could easily be discussing JK Rowling’s screenplays for her proposed five-part Harry Potter prequel saga, which got off to a delightful start with 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them before falling off an exploding cliff with 2018’s The Crimes of Grindelwald, a confusing mess of a movie that sidelined most of the characters from the first film, took a fan-servicing detour to Hogwarts, made Johnny Depp’s titular villain a proto-fascist, and kept changing its mind about the origin and purpose of Ezra Miller’s orphaned wizard Credence Barebone.

If the second instalment suggested Rowling’s novelistic instincts and world-building abilities weren’t interchangeable with the screenwriting skills necessary to craft a coherent cinematic universe, the new film seems like a sly acknowledgment of this fact, chucking out – or at least making irrelevant – many of the narrative convolutions of part two. Co-written by regular Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, this instalment is “based on a screenplay by JK Rowling” and features a slightly more streamlined plot that at least gives it a scene-to-scene momentum hitherto missing from the franchise.

Having parted ways with Depp over his tumultuous off-screen life, the film also kicks off in high-style by introducing Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald in a sit-down confrontation with Jude Law’s Dumbledore that outlines their romantic history and the ideological differences that have taken them down radically different paths. There’s no acknowledgement of the personnel change; series director David Yates opts for a straight switch that works thanks to Mikkelson’s charisma and his ability to instantly draw on his Bond villain leer and Hannibal Lecter charm to create an appropriately sinister bad guy for a family film.

He’s certainly the best thing about the movie, which takes shape around Grindelwald’s insidious efforts to assume political control of the wizarding world, a course of action that forces Dumbledore to leave the sanctuary of Hogwarts and lead bumbling magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a rag-tag crew of witches, wizards and the odd no-maj to stop him. The ensemble cast – among them Dan Fogler as no-maj baker Jacob Kowalski, Richard Coyle as Dumbledore’s brother and Jessica Williams as an American professor of witchcraft and wizardry called Eulalie Hicks – get little moments to shine amid CGI-heavy set-pieces. Meanwhile Yates and his production designers go to town crafting elaborate sets that alternately capture the twinkly appeal of old New York and the totalitarian terror of 1930s Berlin.

Murina

Yet despite being lighter on its feet, the storytelling still feels a little haphazard as the film figures out what to do with the aforementioned Credence Barebone storyline with two films still to go. Conceived as a kind of inverted Harry Potter, whose personal history of trauma has turned him to the dark side, it originally seemed as if Credence might be the key to the franchise, yet the previous films – and perhaps Ezra Miller’s sullen performance – failed to make the character narratively interesting, even with a head-scratching ending to part two that intimated Credence was really Dumbledore’s brother. That familial connection is clarified a little more here, but there’s no great revelatory moment, no sense of emotional catharsis. For all the diverting spectacle on offer, this plays like a franchise that knows it’s running out of steam.

Cannes-winning Croatian drama Murina subverts the usual sun-drenched European arthouse coming-of-age tropes by zeroing in on a character whose idyllic abode is more prison than paradise. Living on the Adriatic coast with her chauvinistic father (Leon Lucev) and unhappy mother (Danica Curcic), surly teenager Julija (Gracija Filipovic) doesn’t luxuriate in the splendour that attracts holiday makers and tourist boats. Instead, she’s forced to go spearfishing with her bitter, truculent father to supplement their meagre family income and is starting to act out more and more, perhaps out of fear of sharing the same fate as her mother, a local beauty who seems to have resigned herself to a hardscrabble existence with a bully for a husband.

Searching underwater crevices for the titular moray eel – a local delicacy with a toxic bite – becomes the unifying symbol that debut director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović uses to underscore her protagonist’s predicament as Julija pins her hopes for escape on Javier (Cliff Curtis), a wealthy friend of her parents whose obvious attraction to her mother she decides to cultivate without fully anticipating what the consequences might be. What emerges is a discomfiting drama that treats impending adulthood as a turbulent sea and adolescence as a sink-or-swim situation.

Starring Mark Rylance as a Saville Row-trained “cutter" who becomes embroiled in the Chicago underworld of his mobster clientele, The Outfit may be full of neatly designed reveals and reversals, but this 1950s-set chamber piece from Graham Moore (Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game) feels like a play masquerading as a movie. Overburdened with metaphorical soliloquies, none of it feels particularly alive on screen and while Rylance is mostly fine, the period setting and stylised accents make the younger cast – Johnny Flynn, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brian – seem like grown-ups auditioning for a Bugsy Malone revival.

Zoey Deutch and Mark Rylance in The Outfit PIC: Nick Wall / Focus Features

All films on general release from 8 April

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