Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (UK / USA / 12A / 134 mins)
In short: An improved sequel
Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz.
The Plot: Arch villain of the wizarding world Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes prison in dramatic fashion. He heads to Paris to find Credence (Ezra Miller), whose raw magical potential he hopes to tap into. Grindelwald wants to gather pure-blood wizards into his fold. Dumbledore (Jaw Law) knows Grindelwald only too well so he recruits Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to secretly track him down. Pure of heart himself and able to tame the most wild beasts, Newt teams up once again with Tina (Katherine Waterson) and muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler). However, they find something far more sinister at the core of Grindelwald’s nefarious heart – a plan to protect the wizarding world by taking over the non-magical world…
The Verdict: With her Harry Potter storyline all used up, J.K. Rowling expanded her magical world of wizards by going back in time with 2016’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. It was a bright and breezy affair that visually set itself apart from Harry Potter, but spent so much time world building that director David Yates lapsed in focusing more on the story. With the introduction out of the way, now he can really move with a purpose in second instalment Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald. It’s a notably bolder and more confident film, moving with leaps rather than strides. It does what all good sequels should do: opens out its clearly-defined world further but deepens and enriches the story and that all important character development.
Character development is very much at the fore in this film. Rowling and Yates take their time in fleshing out returning characters, while also introducing new ones. Flashbacks to Dumbledore and a young Newt emphasise his inherent goodness and childlike innocence, something which Dumbledore knows he can use against the more worldly Grindelwald. Rowling more than hints at a troubled backstory between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, something which Law gets across with clarity. It’s a smart casting choice, given his commanding but kindly presence throughout. Though, this would suggest that Dumbledore gradually turned Irish as he got older. Maybe it was just a spell that was hard to shake off.
Despite the offscreen controversy surrounding the casting of Depp, he shows up and delivers the goods here. He invests Grindelwald with a sense of menace, but also a seductive charm. During his climactic speech to a group of pure-bloods, it’s hard not to sympathise to some degree with his concerns about non-magical muggles. He’s just warming up though and with three more films in the pipeline, Grindelwald is a character that could come to define this series. Beyond the characters, Yates uses the Paris locations with style and returns the series to its European origins. Hogwarts gets a brief but welcome re-appearance and some fantastic new beasts are introduced, in particular a Chinese one that is really rather cute. The Niffler won’t be pleased.
While it does have some funny moments, mostly involving the bumbling but earnest Jacob (Fogler in scene-stealing form again), Yates almost forgets to remind us of this later in the film as the plot thickens and darkens. That’s not to say that it’s attempting to be a typically darker sequel, to set itself apart from its predecessor. It’s a slight shade darker but no more than that. It’s just that Yates forgets later on to have those lighter moments as an audience release valve. That said though, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald is an improved sequel that ups the magic while also upping the ante to thrilling effect.