There’s a menagerie of new beasts in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald and a fair few of them could legitimately be called ‘fantastic’. There’s also an enormous roll call of characters, and here’s where the fantasticness abates somewhat, but more on that later. The latest instalment of JK Rowling’s 5-part Harry Potter prequel is a magical adventure, an immersive dip back into the Wizarding World, packed with wonder and delight, which should elicit warm memories and Christmassy feels.
Like a visit to Warner Bros ‘Making of Harry Potter’ Studio Tour, the set pieces, the stunning visuals, the world building and the sheer attention to detail will blow your socks off. But like the WB tour, there’s too many people and you don’t go there for the plot.
Crimes Of Grindelwald kicks off six months after the first Fantastic Beasts ended – evil Wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is behind bars in a high security MACUSA prison, while Newt (Eddie Redmayne) has returned to London, leaving Tina (Katherine Waterston) behind in New York. But Grindelwald pulls off a bravura escape and is now wreaking havoc at large. His aim? To track down Obscurial Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) with the aim of utilising his considerable powers for a dark purpose involving his former friend (and not explicitly romantic suitor here) Dumbledore (Jude Law).
Thus begins a international chase taking place between London, New York, Hogwarts and eventually Paris where the majority of the action happens. Couples are reunited and torn asunder, family bonds are broken and forged and for quite a bit of the considerable runtime (which is 134 mins in total) the main narrative follows attempts of various characters to discover who Credence (who we learn is adopted in Beasts 1) is, or is not, related to.
Like in Beasts 1, the magical creatures themselves appear in mostly irrelevant but nonetheless enjoyable side-scenes. Newt must ride a wayward kelpie (underwater horse made of seaweed) to give it some ointment, tame a rampaging Taowu (Chinese dragon with smiley face), and avoid a herd of Matagots which protect the Paris Ministry (evil cats with alien eyes). Old favourites pop up, too, with Pickett the Bowtruckle and some baby Nifflers stealing several scenes throughout. Sure, it’s padding, but it’s what we come for.
The new human creatures don’t fare quite as well. Law as a young Albus Dumbledore is smooth and charming and somehow not ‘our’ Albus, Claudia Kim’s ‘Maledictus’ is alluring but barely in it and Zoe Kravitz, as Leta Lestrange, glimpsed in a photo in the first Beasts, is potentially the most interesting character in the film we’re never given the chance to really get to know.
Meanwhile favourites from the first film Newt, Tina, Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) are at least given space to grow. Queenie and Jacob are particularly adorable both as comic relief and the movie’s only truly happy loving couple, at the start at least…
And as for Depp’s Grindelwald – an unpopular casting choice among fans after reports surfaced alleging domestic violence against his ex-wife Amber Heard – well, at least the film doesn’t try to make him in any way likeable. If there was ever any doubt as to how truly evil Grindelwald is, it’s allayed in the opening scenes when he executes a toddler and offs his own pet gremlin for being too needy.
For a film with an awful lot going on, then, Crimes Of Grindelwald is surprisingly light on actual narrative or incidents that push the action forward. And unlike the first five Harry Potter films at least, it doesn’t really work as a standalone movie. Instead this is very much part two of five, an adventure which poses more questions than it answers and never reaches any satisfying conclusions in any of its many plot strands.
For Potter fans there are Easter Eggs and references galore, with classic characters hinted at and multiple flashbacks filling in bits of magical dynasty history linking back to the wider Potterverse. More of a ‘Wizarding World Experience’ than a complete film in itself, Crimes Of Grindelwald will at least leave audiences desperate to know what’s going to happen next. And with a surprising reveal at the end, fans will be scouring the internet looking for gems like a Niffler in the royal mint…
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald opens in UK cinemas on 16th November.