Writer: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Jamie Campbell Bower
Running time: 134mins
What’s the story: When dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) escapes justice, Newt Scamander (Redmayne) unites with his old wizarding schoolmaster Albus Dumbledore (Law) to stop the villain’s plan to enslave the “No-Maj” (i.e., no-magic) world.
What’s the verdict: So arrives the second of a planned five films in the Fantastic Beasts (and Where To Find Them) Harry Potter prequels, based on a Hogwarts textbook of the same name.
With the Fantastic Beasts movies following eight previous Potter outings, we are firmly in lucrative franchise territory. Reinforced by the appropriately golden “Wizarding World” logo that opens this chapter.
The trick to expanding a cherished franchise is keeping original fans happy while attracting a new audience to justify the millions spent in bringing this new universe to life.
Unfortunately, writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates stumble on both counts. The film relies on the audience having a decent working knowledge of the Wizarding World™, yet lets slip some howling mistakes. Minerva McGonagall teaching at Hogwarts eight years before she was born, well-known characters gaining a sibling or two, and weak plotting are liable to leave fans reeling.
And anyone with merely a passing interest or no prior Potter knowledge are likely to expelliarmus themselves early on with a scratched head.
Film number one closed with Newt Scamander (author of said textbook) leaving New York, Grindelwald unmasked and in custody and the obscurial known as Creedence (Miller) presumed dead.
In this second instalment, we find Newt and his fantastical side-kicks at the Ministry for Magic. Here Newt encounters the first of many characters who may be important later. Such as his brother (Turner, who could be Eddie’s body double) and Newt’s old flame, Letta Lestrange (Kravitz).
Harry Potter fans will recognise Letta’s surname, although it is yet unclear how she is related to Helena Bonham Carter’s formidable Bellatrix.
Many fans would have probably preferred that Colin Farrell reprise his villainous role from Fantastic Beasts… But despite the controversy surrounding him, Depp is back from his micro cameo in the first film as big bad Grindelwald. Although we see little of his crimes as the film preoccupies itself with multiple subplots.
Most of which revolve around familiar faces. Tina (Waterston), Jacob (Fogler) and Queenie (Sudol), the heroes of the first film, are back. We discover how bad Newt is at flirting while also trying to save the Wizarding World (again). Queenie’s character development is questionable at best but hints at a bigger role in the next chapter.
The most significant Potter linkage is the on-screen return of Albus Dumbledore. Without trademark beard and with Jude Law stepping in for Michael Gambon (and Richard Harris for that matter).
While not a terrible choice, it is hard to discern where Law ends and Dumbledore begins. Fans will recognise the deluminator, which Law’s Dumbledore uses within minutes of first appearing. Sadly though, the actor is unable to conjure Gambon’s charisma and presence.
While the first film was based entirely in New York, this one largely relocates to Paris (presumably London will play a large part in the next chapter).
But, the rules of this Wizarding World are ill-defined and befuddling.
Newt and his friends weave in and out of the ‘no-maj’ and hidden wizard world. Hiding in plain sight, the transition between the two realms is nicely concealed behind an optical illusion statue.
Yet other elements are not as successful. Magic is repeatedly performed in front of non-wizards with little to zero reaction or consequence. A complete departure from the Harry Potter series as well as the previous Fantastic Beasts film.
Everything that has been carefully built and crafted over the years is ignored in favour of bringing bombastic, occasionally impressive set-pieces to the screen.
Rowling has used websites and social media to expand on magical tales and tantalising character tidbits. This felt organic and enhanced the Potterverse (sorry, Wizarding World™). But, here J.K. has overreached.
It’s not all Dementors at dawn. The visual effects are stunning and Newt’s creatures brought to life with bags of personality. A personal favourite is the Niffler, again playing a key light-fingered role.
The lasting impression however is that The Crimes of Grindelwald is just set-up for later movies. Little happens to shift the dial and we’re introduced to a slew of characters who could be important later… but don’t drive the story here.
So, (Tom) riddle us this. Have they done enough to make fans watch the next one?
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