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Jude Law as young Albus Dumbledore and Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” — 2 stars — Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp; PG-13 (some sequences of fantasy action); in general release; running time: 134 minutes

The biggest crime in David Yates’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is that it makes the dynamic and magical "Harry Potter" universe boring.

Set 70-odd years before the adventures of the Boy Who Lived, the second installment in the “Fantastic Beasts” series gets off to a decent start, as the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) breaks out of custody during a high-flying prisoner transfer above New York City. But from there, things go downhill — fast.

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Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

The next two hours wander through a labyrinth of convoluted narratives, all loosely connected to a troubled young man with terrifying powers named Credence (Ezra Miller), who is hiding in Paris after having survived the events of the first film.

Grindelwald is convinced that Credence is the key to destroying his nemesis, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and hunts the boy in Paris. Dumbledore wants to protect Credence, but since he refuses to confront Grindelwald, he persuades magical beast enthusiast Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find the wayward youth.

For their part, the Ministry of Magic believes Credence is a dangerous threat to society, so they’ve sent an agent named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Newt’s sidekick from the first film, to find him.

That’s the simple version of the plot, and it reads clearer in print than on screen. “Crimes of Grindelwald” also incorporates a number of romantic subplots that further complicate the story: Newt and Tina’s potential relationship is on the rocks after some miscommunication, and Newt’s friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) are back but wrestling with the realities of forbidden love since Jacob is a “no-maj” (the American term for Muggle).

Newt also has a brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), who works for the ministry and is now involved with Newt’s old Hogwarts crush, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). There are also strong hints that Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship is … complicated.

None of these subplots are crippling individually, but their cumulative effect easily distracts from the film’s underdeveloped core. About halfway through “Crimes of Grindelwald,” you start asking yourself what the movie is actually about.

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Brontis Jodorowsky as Nicolas Flamel and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."

Is it a Dumbledore origin story? Is it about Grindelwald’s quest for pureblood wizard rule? Is it about social justice for wizards and muggles? “Crimes of Grindelwald” appears to be about a little of everything and a lot of nothing.

The production values are strong, but the dazzling effects of a dramatic third-act finale don’t carry any weight without narrative stakes to support them, and the competent acting goes to waste on characters the audience isn’t invested in.

Redmayne may be a perfect match for Newt, but is Newt a perfect protagonist for a multifilm franchise? Supposedly, Yates and Co. have three more films to answer that question.

The introduction of Albus Dumbledore was a hopeful sign that “Crimes of Grindelwald” would help energize the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, but Dumbledore is barely in this new movie at all, and a five-minute scene at Hogwarts feels like a glorified cameo.

This isn’t to suggest that these new films have to recycle "Harry Potter" material to satisfy fans. Rather, the problem is that these fleeting elements are reminders of the sense of magic and wonder that was so palpable in that other series and so absent this time around.

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Claudia Kim as Nagini in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald."
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Where the “Harry Potter” films were grounded in Harry’s coming of age and driven by the conflict with Voldemort, the “Fantastic Beasts” narratives feel wandering and arbitrary. You could argue that author J.K. Rowling — credited as “Crimes of Grindelwald’s” writer — is a better novelist than a screenwriter. But even so, Yates’ film feels like a deep B-side track, fleshing out obscure details and offering extreme fan service while trying to force a retroactive square story into a round narrative hole.

If you’re starting to worry that we’ve got a “Lord of the Rings” vs. “The Hobbit” situation on our hands, you’re not alone.

Rating explained: "Crimes of Grindelwald" may be on the dull side, but like the later “Harry Potter” films, Yates' effort is dark and violent enough to justify its PG-13 rating and probably not suitable for younger children.