When Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out in 2016, I have to admit I wasn’t that into it. I was still carrying a torch for Harry, Ron, Hermione and the other characters we’d all come to know and love over the course of a magical (pun intended) decade. But they say time heals all wounds, and perhaps I just needed a few more years to muster up interest in wizarding world events that transpired more than 50 years before Harry Potter was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Because I did enjoy much more than its predecessor.
The film — the second in a planned series of five, and once again directed by David Yates — starts out promisingly with a thrilling mid-air chase as the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes his prison transport. Soon, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) asks his Ministry of Magic friend Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to track down and take down Grindelwald. Now, if you remember anything about Newt from the first film, it’s that he literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s a gentle soul who loves all creatures and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. Newt asks Dumbledore why he can’t do the deed himself — he is the most powerful wizard, after all. But Dumbledore only says that he can’t be the one to move against Grindelwald, and then he vanishes … leaving the fate of the world in Newt’s gentle hands, confident that Newt will do the right thing.
Which Newt does indeed try to do, but he’s got a lot of other stuff going on that’s distracting him. First, his childhood love Leta (Zoë Kravitz) is set to marry his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) … but she kinda-sorta seems to still be making googly eyes at Newt. Second, Newt’s current love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston) is missing … on top of being upset with Newt because of a misunderstanding. Third, Newt needs to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does, because it’s clear the dark wizard is trying to bring the powerful yet disturbed young man under his control by dangling the carrot of Credence’s true identity. Fourth, Newt has to deal with his Muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) and his mind-reading girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudal), who arrive at his house unexpectedly. Lastly, all of his beasts big and small are still running wild and wreaking havoc in the magical realm under his house. Though truth be told, that last one doesn’t seem to faze Newt too much.
Got all that? Depending on your appetite for subplots, you might be overwhelmed with the multiple storylines. Those I listed above aren’t even half of them. But I personally enjoyed having lots to think about and the significantly faster pace of the film compared to the first installment. If I had a complaint, it would be that I wanted to know and see more about two specific relationships: Leta and Newt’s while they were at Hogwarts (their flashbacks were a highlight of the film) and Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s when they were younger. Something tells me we’ll eventually get an entire film franchise out of that story, though.
Another character I was intrigued by was Nagini (Claudia Kim), who carries a blood curse that will eventually turn her into a snake. Currently, however, she can transform at will. Those who’ve read the Harry Potter books know what her ultimate fate is. Like the Dumbledore-Grindelwald relationship, I can only assume we’ll eventually learn much more about Nagini. Unlike that wizard-centric storyline, however, I’m positive we’ll get the full scoop on Nagini within the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
The star of The Crimes of Grindelwald, fittingly, was Grindelwald — or rather Depp’s portrayal of the infamous dark wizard. He’s got his blond spiky hair, he’s got his freaky white eye, he’s got his flair for fashion, and he’s got his words. His convincing, slippery, soothing words, which transfix almost everyone who crosses his path. So much so that they end up agreeing with some of his most concerning ideas and plans. The film culminates in Grindelwald holding a huge stadium rally for his followers and laying out his eyebrow-raising plan for the future. It’s tough to not see a parallel to current real-world events, even though screenwriter J.K. Rowling sketched out this part of her wizarding world’s story years ago.
Before it’s over, The Crimes of Grindelwald doles out one big “reveal,” but it was one that left me scratching my head and then Googling furiously. It felt kind of forced, like the team thought they had no choice but to include a “gotcha!” at the end. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the film, but it also didn’t have the effect on me that I’m sure Rowling and Yates intended.
I can only assume that Rowling and Yates did intend for this installment to serve as a set-up to future films and draw fans deeper into the mystery of “what came before” Harry Potter. For me, it achieved that goal. Yes, there was a lot to keep up with, but I prefer a fast pace. And there is not a weak link in the top-notch cast, even if I wished a few of them had more screen-time. Something tells me I’ll be more than ready for the third Fantastic Beasts chapter when November 20, 2020 finally rolls around!