Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald is the 10th film set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
That is an astounding feat.
In the modern cinematic era of super franchises where Marvel and Star Wars rule supreme it is easy to forget that much of the groundwork was laid by Harry Potter.
The success of the original Potter films made a spin-off series something of an inevitability. In fact 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them surprised everyone by just how spun off it proved to be.
Gone were Harry, Voldemort and Hogwarts replaced by Newt Scamander, Gellert Grindelwald and a moody 1920s Manhattan. These diversions from the Potter norm proved to be the films greatest strength; giving the spin-off a fresh identity whilst still inhabiting Rowling’s masterfully built magical world.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald on the other hand sees the return of Hogwarts, The Ministry of Magic and indeed Albus Dumbledore and in doing so stumbles on some very well-trodden ground.
After the events of the previous film, we find the titular Grindlewald incarcerated in New York. The film opens with a prison transfer gone wrong, allowing the villainous wizard to escape into the night. This draws out all the players from the first film as they attempt to hunt him down.
Eddie Redmayne is back as the lovably awkward Newt Scamander who remains enamoured with Katherine Waterson’s Tina Goldstein. Amongst all the plot devices and spectacle the film throws at you, it is these two who hold everything together. In fact, the pair is so enjoyable to watch that you may be disappointed the film doesn’t dedicate more time to them. I would happily have exchanged a CGI filled chase sequence or two for more time with these two introverts trying desperately to traverse their blossoming romance.
The cast as a whole is very impressive with everyone from Ezra Miller to Alison Sudol on top form. Dan Fogler’s Jacob is still utterly delightful and one of the most likeable characters you will see in a cinema this year.
The two big newcomers to the Potterverse are Jude Law and Johhny Depp as ‘young’ Dumbledore and Grindelwald respectfully. Whilst ‘young’ might be a bit kind to Law (45) and Depp (55) it is true these are two characters previously only seen in much older incarnations.
Both actors are vastly experienced and slip into the franchise with ease. Law presents a slightly cheekier side of Dumbledore and maintains the character’s reputation as something of a rebel albeit a very polite one.
Depp is also suitably menacing as Dumbledore’s foil Grindelwald. The dynamic between the two is a major point of contention in the film and leans into the characters complicated past. Whilst Grindelwald was always going to struggle to outshine Voldemort as the big bad of the series he does offer a quieter, more calculated villain then previously encountered. The film presents his cause in an intelligent manner, showcasing how easily people can be corrupted by propaganda and a thinly veiled right wing ideology.
Staying true to its title the film features many fantastic beasts with a particular highlight being the Chinese Zouwu, a sort of giant dragon-like cat that causes havoc in Paris. The loveable Nifflers return from the first film and prove their worth yet again with some great slapstick moments.
It is clear that J.K. Rowling is still brimming with ideas for this magical world she has created. Unfortunately, the film as a whole struggles to accommodate them all.
With so much crammed into its 2h15m runtime, the pacing is uneven at best. In returning to Hogwarts and some more familiar faces the series has also lost a little bit of the identity the first entry worked so hard to achieve.
Ultimately director David Yates has once again done a good job in putting together an entertaining wizarding flick. Potterheads will surely enjoy the latest entry in the saga and relish the opportunity to revisit Hogwarts again. Although the film struggles with some sticky moments and a slight over-reliance on exposition it all just about comes together.