After sending the Harry Potter franchise hurtling back some 60-plus years into the past with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, creator J.K. Rowling and director David Yates have returned with the second of five planned films in the series, The Crimes of Grindelwald. Time to find out if the “Wizarding World” still has plenty of magic left in it. Accio review!
We pick up roughly a year after the events of the first film with Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) still in custody. When the Ministry attempts to move him from America to England for his trial, however, Grindelwald escapes. With the dark wizard once again on the loose, a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) approaches Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who is barred from traveling internationally, to intervene.
Scamander initially wants to remain neutral, but when he learns Tina (Katherine Waterston) has gone to Paris to search for Credence (Ezra Miller), the same person Grindelwald is looking for, he packs up his things and heads to France with muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) in tow. Tina soon locates Credence but is unable to apprehend him. Newt follows shortly thereafter and sets to work finding Tina.
Eventually the pair reunite, but all is not well as Grindelwald holds a rally, bringing both his followers and dozens of Aurors, including Tina, Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and fiancee Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), as well as Credence, who wants to know who really is, and Newt. With so much magical power on both sides of the law converging in one place, it appears the time for a showdown is at hand.
Although this is still Redmayne’s movie, expanding the roles of accomplished actors Jude Law and Johnny Depp brings more star power to the film, something we felt was lacking in the original with Waterston, Fogler and Alison Sudol (Queenie) getting a lot of screen time. All three have had their roles scaled back this time around, and while there are definitely some issues that arise from having so many characters it’s a net win for Crimes.
Crimes of Grindelwald may not advance things very far chronologically, but there are far more tie-ins to the Harry Potter films in the sequel. Beyond just the progression of Dumbledore’s part of the story, we also meet future Voldemort horcrux Nagini (Claudia Kim), a very young Professor McGonagall and ancient alchemist Nicholas Flamel, the owner of the Sorcerer’s Stone from the first HP story. Meeting familiar characters helps in a film that also has plenty of heretofore unseen ones running about.
As you’d suspect, the special effects are really strong, and there are some excellent sequences that show off how far technology has come since we first met Harry. Sure, there’s some of the same feelings here that we had with the Star Wars prequel like “why don’t they use that spell in the future?,” but you just have to roll with it. Creature design is also more impressive this time with the Zouwu the coolest of the bunch. Also, nifflers.
Even at more than two hours, Crimes ends up feeling muddled and a bit rushed at times. Some characters are introduced and then never brought back, such as Newt’s assistant Bunty, and other arcs move too quickly (see: Queenie). There’s just a lot going on in a relatively short amount of time, and looking back at it the film probably would’ve benefited from less “magic for magic’s sake” effects and more storyline development.
As it stands, there are too many relationships to track: Newt and Tina, Credence and Nagini, Theseus and Leta, Dumbledore and Grindelwold, Jacob and Queenie, Newt and Leta, and so on. Obviously some of these will evolve as we progress, but right now it creates confusion because there’s just not enough time to do them all justice. In that way, it lacks the focus of the HP films, which were about Harry, Ron and Hermione, and everything else intersected with that trio.
THE BONUS FEATURES
More than an hour of extras can be found here, including a talk with Rowling, a look at the casting of Law as Dumbledore, and a surprisingly interesting piece where Ezra Miller and Evanna Lynch (who played Luna Lovegood) watch scenes and react as fans. A number of in-depth looks at sets and scenes is also good viewing for Harry Potter fans. Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes round things out, but those offer little in terms of interesting content.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is visually impressive and advances the story in some interesting ways. At the same time, however, it feels like it tried to bring too many elements into a two-hour film, resulting in an unfocused narrative.