2016’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was a, well, fantastically magical film that helped expand J.K. Rowling’s world beyond the walls of Hogwarts. Unlike the Harry Potter films, it was unencumbered by the weight of an existing story, and director David Yates was free to stamp his own mark on Rowling’s screenplay.
The result was a film that joyously revelled in the freedom it had and made us see the vast potential of the Wizarding World cinematic universe (yes, that’s an official thing now, deal with it).
The Crimes Of Grindelwald, however, doesn’t quite reach those heights, but what it lacks in world expansion, it makes up for with an increasing focus on the central plot and further development of the Wizarding World’s pre-Harry Potter history.
This time, Yates and Rowling train their focus on the central conflict between Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), with Newt Scamander (charmingly played by Eddie Redmayne) caught in the middle of it along with the friends he made in America – Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), mind-reader Queenie (Alison Sudol) and No-Maj/Muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler).
The film starts with Grindelwald imprisoned by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), put in there with Newt’s help in the first film. But he soon breaks out (of course, otherwise this would be called the Execution of Grindelwald and be a very short film), and heads for Paris, where he seeks to rally his followers – pure-blood wizards and witches – and begin his war against non-magical beings.
Unable to move against Grindelwald himself for reasons unknown, Dumbledore enlists Newt to try and stop Grindelwald. At the same time, the powerful Obscurial from the first movie, Credence (Ezra Miller), is also in Paris, and Grindelwald sees him as the key element to his plan to defeat Dumbledore once and for all.
Following up a successful debut film in a franchise is always tricky. Not encumbered with world- or characters’ origin-building, but not able to fully let loose for fear of spoiling the next films, the second film in a franchise is like the middle child of blockbuster making.
The first Fantastic Beasts movie introduced us to the wizarding world in America, and gave us a look at just how much more there is left unexplored in this universe. This time around, we go back to good old London for a bit before traipsing off to France for a look at the magic community in Paris.
Unfortunately, the greater focus on the central plot also means there is less time to go deeper into the details of the French wizarding world. Much of the movie is spent building up the growing menace of Grindelwald, and Johnny Depp gives a suitably wicked performance as the evil wizard. It’s a far cry from wild and wacky roles like Jack Sparrow, Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka, and he shows remarkable restraint in his performance, with a dark sense of purpose simmering just below his calm but obviously evil personality.
On the other side, Law’s young Dumbledore provides the perfect foil to Grindelwald. He may not be the old, wise man we are used to seeing in the Potter films, but you can see shades of that in this younger, confident, sharply-dressed version of the wizard.
One of the reasons the Fantastic Beasts movies work better for me, personally, is the fact that it is much easier to root for the awkwardly charming Newt than the angsty, tortured soul that is Harry Potter. Much of that is down to Redmayne’s performances, who gets Newt’s socially awkward personality down pat. At times, he is just so sweet and charming that you just want to give him a big hug whenever things don’t go well for him.
That said, there are other elements of the film that makes it feel as though a tighter edit was needed, with too much time spent on red herrings and subplots when it comes to Credence’s past.
Happily, Yates at least manages to stay true the ‘fantastic beasts’ part of the title, with new monsters and familiar creatures populating the film, and keeping it, well, fantastic. It’s an element of the show that is most crucial to developing Newt’s personality, as difference between Newt when interacting with people and when he is working with his beloved monsters is striking, and endears you to him that much more.
As it is, The Crimes Of Grindelwald manages to strike a good balance between continuing the whimsical wonder of the first film while venturing into the darker reaches of the central plot. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least another enjoyable adventure that makes you want to see more of Newt and Rowling’s Wizarding World.
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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp.