Call it a galleon-grab if you like, but J.K. Rowling is making every effort to flesh out the Wizarding World and there’s plenty to show for it with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, albeit it with a few loose threads. Following the events of the first film, Grindelwald, the dark wizard that precedes the Dark Lord, evades answering for his crimes in a spectacular air bound getaway in New York that competes with even Mr Potter’s shell game in the skies from Deathly Hallows Part 1. Wizards get Avada Kedavra’d in a flash highlighting just how dastardly Depp’s dark wizard is, and how much of a job Newt Scamander has on his hands.
Appointed by Jude Law’s Dumbledore, who takes a fresh breath of life into the role that feels in tone with Harris and Gambon, Eddie Redmayne’s skittish, salamander-obsessed hero heads to Paris to foil the bad lad’s plans of wizard world supremacy. Hot on his tail though is the Ministry of Magic and Newt’s older brother, Theseus, who’s keen to put a stop to Grindelwald by any means necessary. Alliances will be tested, lives will be lost, and things will get so complex you’ll need more than a Marauder’s Map to find your way around in a film that feels it’s losing the magic touch fans have come to love.
There was no doubt that Newt and co. would have some distance to make up for to even match the excitement levels for The Boy Who Lived, and at times it feels like it might just manage. Having already handled the role of Newt, Redmayne has fleshed out a wonderfully charming hero that is a little misunderstood and an unquestionably good soul. His heart is in the right place, even if he hides it behind a collection of magical creatures that are just as fantastic as before. Even so, Newt’s drive to thwart the plans of the Magical World’s greatest threat doesn’t feel like a believable one, and the impending great war of wizards feels ultimately baseless. Depp is an antagonist just because the story dictates it, but never once does he raise hairs the same way Ralph Fiennes did as Voldemort. In fact, fans yearning for the return of Colin Farrell’s take from the first film is right to do so. Without question, the wrong wiz died!
With that said, there are moments that will cast a smile on any doubtful Muggle’s face. Every second we spend in Hogwarts is like coming home, hearing Williams score graze the scene is enough to build chills, and the wonderful special effects that have folks apparating here there and everywhere never gets old. It’s a special kind of magic that stupefies you into the ever complex tale that Rowling is unravelling for better or worse.
Therein lies the film’s biggest issue, with literal family trees being spread out across this instalment and the desperation to link it to names of characters we’ll eventually cross paths within the Potter films. Much like the Star Wars universe clinging to the Skywalker bloodline rather than the galaxy surrounding it, Rowling (who wrote the screenplay for Crimes) seems stuck on the core families when the Wizarding World is so much bigger. Of course, it’s clear that the writer of one of the most beloved franchises in the world has a few more tricks up her sleeve for Newt’s adventures, but it’s the first time you might question if you’ll even care when the time finally does come. Wands at the ready, folks.