Synopsis – The second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.
My Take – Firstly let me get this out of the way, yes, I am a huge Harry Potter fan! Like myself, a whole generation has grown up in the world build up British author J.K. Rowling. Since the release of the first YA novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 1997, followed by its cinematic debut in 2001, the series has reached massive landmarks by affecting our pop culture in more way than we can count. With the series ending publication wise in 2007, and cinematic ally in 2011, I think it’s suffice to say that we were still tempted to retreat into this world filled with friendship, love, loss and of course magic.
Cashing in on this opportunity, five years after the series effectively ended with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, author/ writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (the director behind the final four films in the series), took us back into Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that was designed to serve as the first entry in a five-part prequel/spinoff to the Harry Potter franchise. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed on the film, as some (like myself) considered it a fun addition to the world, while others deemed it unnecessary. But with $814 million box office, a sequel was quite guaranteed, as both Rowling and director Yates returned this year with a follow up and a promise to build upon the universe by not going just wider but also quite deeper.
Shockingly the reviews of the film (which released yesterday in the U.S. and on Thursday in the U.A.E), haven’t been exactly stellar, with some even referring to as the ‘worst Harry Potter film’ and some calling it as a franchise-killing disaster. In my personal opinion, I think they are a bit exaggerated, as I have seen quite some terrible films in my lifetime, and this film feels nowhere close, instead I believe this sequel splendidly weaves Harry Potter and the Fantastic Beasts universe together in more ways than I expected.
Sure it does feel expositionary at times, and tries to cram too much into its run time, thereby affecting some character arcs and sub plots, but as a fan I was delighted to notice the Easter eggs, the familiar darkness witness in the last four films of the HP series, the shocking reveals and cinematic visuals. By returning to the European mainland and getting a clearer view on what the films are building to, the level of storytelling successfully ramps up in this second Wizarding franchise.
The story takes place in 1927, and follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who following the events of the first film has been issued an international travel ban from the Ministry of Magic in London, and hopes to uphold his promise of hand delivering a finished copy of his book to Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) in New York. Unfortunately for him, as Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the dark wizard has staged a dramatic escape the threat of exposure of the magic world in front of the no mags/muggles has increased. And as he had major hand in capturing Grindelwald in the first place, they propose he joins Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), a war hero and an Auror, in capturing him in exchange of lifting the ban.
With no intention of choosing a side, and working with his estranged brother and Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), Theseus’ fiancée and Newt’s former best friend, he refuses. As he continues to tend to his collection of beasts, he is approached by Albus Dumbeldore (Jude Law), his former Defense against the Dark Arts Professor from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and tasked with finding Credence (Ezra Miller), who is alive in Paris and seeking his secret lineage alongside Nagini (Claudia Kim).
With Grindelwald on the loose in Paris, Dumbedore is convinced that the powerful Credence is his next target for recruitment into his growing list of followers who seek to take the superior status over no mags/ muggles and restore pure blood to the wizarding world. Joined by Jacob (Dan Fogler), his no mag friend, Newt heads to France to locate Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina, who has no become an Auror and is also searching for Credence, in order to carry out his mission. But as Grindelwald continues to work his magic and charisma to convince the wizarding world of his beliefs and goals, friend turns against friend, lines are drawn, and sides are chosen, hereby changing the wizarding world forever.
Yes, that’s a lot to take in. As well as being asked to master the politics of the wizarding world, you’re also treated to a series of flashbacks containing clues to the plot’s prevailing mysteries. In the film, we see a strict division in the wizarding world that is sure to shape the characters in a new way come the next installment. This film is darker, more magical, and more thrilling than the first. It starts big and ends with a bang, sure to delight die hard Harry Potter fans the world over. Several of these are set at Hogwarts with Dumbledore and one or two background glimpses of a youthful Professor McGonagall prompting joyful cries of welcome at my screening.
Heralded by a blast of John Williams’ original score, shots of the Great Hall and classrooms produce a shiver. And it’s beguiling to see the twinkly eyed Dumbledore giving a lesson. Needless to say, this is no nostalgia trip; writer Rowling has good reason for going back to school – especially when she cues up flashbacks to the time when the picked-upon Leta and Newt were classmates. The film really hits its considerable peak in its revelation-heavy final third, with a showdown at Père Lachaise.
In a film about brothers and sisters, surrogate or otherwise, the Beasts family tree gets all the more thorny, as hitherto unknown – and complex – relationships are unveiled. Notching up his sixth Rowling adaption, director Yates truly understands what makes the Wizarding World work. Tackling the infamous wizarding world is no small challenge, but the visuals in this film are nothing short of magical. They work so well to create the perfect atmosphere for our story. From the opening scene to the very end, the visuals bring about an enchanting experience for the audience. I can’t get into details without spoiling the ending, but man is it intense. Newt continues to his love and protection of magical creatures in this film, and each one is so spectacularly crafted.
The scenes where he is home and taking care of the various creatures is incredible. Each frame is filled to the brim with detail, whether it’s goblins cleaning windows on floating lifts or a contraption hoovering round the Ministry of Magic (well, someone has to do it). Nor are the ‘beasts’ forgotten, from baby Nifflers cheekily popping champagne corks to the beautiful seaweed-skinned Kelpies, some Japanese water demons, and one lion-like creature that can travel 1,000 miles in a day. But the main focus of this film is instilled on the titular dark wizard, Grindelwald, who like Voldemort, has been compared to Hitler, and throughout the film we begin to see more of the tensions in the wizarding world regarding the statute of secrecy.
Grindelwald – like we see his rallies calling upon the wizarding world to ‘rise up’ and take their place in the open, and it’s easy to see how convincing he is amongst wizards. We’ve not had the chance to see just how threatening Grindelwald is before, and in the Harry Potter series had merely heard brief mentions of his deplorable actions, but this film begins to give us a sense of his mercilessness. He claims not to hate Muggles, but his actions speak louder than his words. Grindelwald is the sort of guy who tosses animals out of flying carriages to their death and has muggle kids killed. With war on the horizon, we begin to see tensions rising and threats becoming real, and it’s fair to say that this is just as dark a film as director David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling promised.
It’s all in the name of making sure pure-blood wizards rule the world and in order to do that he needs Credence, the powerful Obscurial from the first film, for reasons that are sort of unclear for most of the film until the very end. There are also plenty of Easter eggs for hardened Potter heads, including some familiar names and faces and almost comical levels of foreshadowing.
Is the wild plot backed up by any kind of logic? Not really. At one point, a character gives a lengthy monologue which provides so much exposition you’ll wish you had a pen to take notes. At another, a plot hole is dismissed with a laugh and “It didn’t work!” which, fair play, is quite a ballsy feat of narrative erasure. Yes, what this film suffers from are some serious second-film problems. By stuffing the film with too many subplots, some of which are just time consuming, that also means a multiplicity of story lines get chopped into alternating chunks. Case in point is a tedious story-line with Tina who spends the majority of the film believing Newt is engaged to someone else because of a magazine typo.
Queenie makes a strange decision that’s never fully fleshed out in the film and Grindelwald has a female sidekick who’s never properly introduced. It feels like a lot of setup for film three. There’s also a love triangle of sorts between Newt, his brother, and Leta Lestrange for whatever reason and that’s not explored or explained in full. You could also argue that Newt’s brother Theseus isn’t necessary in this film at all. I also felt there was a lot of quick shoe-honing of scenes to make the film suit the title, which was a shame. However, a big reveal at the film’s very end will certainly divide fans. Frankly, I liked the reveal and thought it made sense, but I know it’s going to be a hot-button topic.
Yet, I did enjoy this film, despite the countless questions I had, but my enjoyment was never diluted as I was still shocked by the ‘big reveals’, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing another section of the wizarding world, though I felt it concentrated more on setting up the overarching story of the Fantastic Beasts series at times, it did so in a way which still gave us new characters, new beasts, and new theories to discuss – the threat Grindelwald poses is established, meaning the final three films will hopefully get into the story of his rise and fall. Thankfully the performances also work.
Led by Eddie Redmayne who continues to amaze with his character, making you root for him more with each minute. Katherine Waterston is quite decent here, but unlike the first film, she doesn’t have much to do here. However, the compelling Allison Sudol and the likable Dan Fogler get an interesting arc and make the most of it. Ezra Miller gets better and better every time I see him on screen. No matter what he is doing, he wholly dedicates to a role to bring us the best possible version. While Callum Turner is a welcome foil as Newt’s despairing elder brother, its Zoë Kravitz‘s turn that is rather more fantastic.
Jude Law too is spot on Dumbledore, making a character so indelibly played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon his own. As for Johnny Depp, he plays Grindelwald with sinister menace, but never overcooks it. He becomes a terrifying, intoxicating, and charismatic leader, hell-bent on manipulating the world to his liking. There are scenes where he will enchant you into almost believing him and the next, he will terrify and appall you. The much-hyped role of Nagini from Claudia Kim is wasted.
In supporting roles, Poppy Corby Tuech, Brontis Jodorowsky, Cornell S John, Carmen Ejogo, Derek Riddell, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Jessica Williams, Kevin Guthrie, Olafur Darris Olafsson, Victoria Yeates, William Nadylam, Wolf Roth, and Fiona Glascott, are alright. On the whole, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald‘ is a thrilling and absolutely breathtaking magical adventure which despite suffering from sequelitis tropes manages to be an enthralling entry into the franchise.
Directed – David Yates
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 134 minutes