“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” Movie Review


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     After the enormous global success of the phenomenon that was “Harry Potter”, it’s no surprise author and creator J.K. Rowling would be enticed to bring forth new stories from the Wizarding World.  She did so in 2016 with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, a prequel exploring the lore and early beginnings of the world decades prior to the events of the first Potter film.  Franchise veteran, David Yates, who had directed four films in the series, brought forth his vision of Rowling’s latest work and did so without taking many risks.  In other words, “Fantastic Beasts” played it safe, while introducing new characters and settings that were far away from what we were used to previously.  Of course there was plenty familiar for the keenly aware Potter audiences to dissect and debate, but essentially this was an entirely new world for all of us to explore.  And more importantly, particularly for the studio and all involved, the story set up an endless array of sequel possibilities, to the extent we could easily imagine a new long running franchise that would match the length of the original Potter series of films.

     That process has now officially begun, with Yates returning to the director’s chair for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”.  Again written by Rowling, the sequel makes a furious impression from the opening sequence where we immediately realize this won’t be the cute and cuddly monsters in a suitcase story we were treated to in the first film.  Instead, Yates harks back to his time in the Potter series by creating dark scenery and scenarios chalk full of magical spells used with bad intentions.  If one thing is clear, no one wants to find themselves on the business end of one of those wands.  In doing so, Yates and Rowling have created an entertainment that will play well beyond your small children, so I’d advise leaving them home.

     The focus here is on the once again rise of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a notorious wizard who believes regular humankind (Muggles) will someday exterminate those with magical powers due to their own conflicts during all out war.  In that opening sequence, Grindelwald is being transferred from the United States to London for reasons unknown, but it becomes immediately clear those in charge are in over their heads.  Grindelwald executes a daring prison escape in which his powers and abilities override those in charge, in what is likely the best action sequence in the film.  The scene takes place high above the New York sky line as winged horses pull a stagecoach through the stormy night, surrounded by lightning, rain, and an entourage of wizards whose job is to ensure the ride home goes smoothly.  It, of course, does not, and soon Grindelwald is back as the leader of a nefarious plot.

     We soon catch up with the lead character from the first film, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who is thrust into a mission ordered by his one time teacher, Dumbledore (Jude Law), to find Grindelwald and report on his current whereabouts.  Along for the ride is Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt’s on again off again romantic interest who works for the Ministry of Magic.  Together, they begin to uncover Grindelwald’s plans, but not before they run into plenty of mischief along the way.  As in the first film, Newt’s suitcase and its contents come in handy when they find themselves in peril, as does the presence of Jacob (Dan Fogler), the Muggle squeeze of Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), whose comic relief provides a much needed break from the darkness the story wants to embrace.

     All of this hinges on a specific character named Credence, played by Ezra Miller, who while powerful, seems to remain fixated on finding out who he is and where he came from.  And Grindelwald, who sees the immense potential in his power is more than happy to coerce Credence into believing he has the answers he is looking for. This leads to a climactic third act where all of the parties finally convene, but the answers we are looking for are likely set for the inevitable third installment and beyond.  Which is fine since the filmmakers behind the lens appear game in making the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise every bit as good as its well known predecessor.

     Redmayne is excellent as Newt Scamander and has brought forth an exceptionally well drawn character who is more than capable of functioning as the lead protagonist in a story like this.  He may seem overmatched and even timid if you will.  But his over the top smarts and uncanny ability to think quickly when facing seemingly insurmountable danger is what allows him to succeed regardless of the obstacle.  And that really is the strength of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”.  The characters easily outweigh the spectacle, which is a solid attribute given the fact we have already seen much of what’s magical on screen countless times before.  But instead of being in awe of the latest spell, I keep going back to the quirkiness of Newt, the hilariousness of Jacob, the historical significance of Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), the pure cold evil of Grindelwald, and the frustration of not knowing who you really are displayed by Credence.  Knowing these characters well creates the need for seeing them again, and that’s where this film truly excels.   Fortunately for us, the third installment has already been set for 2020.  GRADE: B+