Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Zoe Kravitz are brilliant!
The story meanders a little
A little too many characters
Will this pay off?
Prequels are a tricky thing. Telling a story to which the end is ultimately known would presumably be a futile tale. More often than not, prequels struggle to find some modicum of relevance while delivering a fresh, unpredictable story without breaking any established sensibility. 2016’s Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is a prime example of a prequel done well, and The Crimes of Grindelwald follows in its footsteps… pretty much.
The first of a five-movie series set in the Harry Potter universe but featuring original tales about magizoologist legend Newt Scamander, the Fantastic Beasts series has evolved from a story about a man seeking animals to one about the meteoric rise (and eventual fall) of Gellert Grindelwald, arguably one of the greatest wizards in the Harry Potter mythos, if not the darkest (sorry, but Ralph Fiennes version of Voldemort was only slightly more intimidating than Tom Hardy’s Bane… and just as laughable).
Following the revelation of Grindelwald’s involvement in the first Fantastic Beasts film, the sequel picks up on his growing influence and appeal to the Wizarding community. Unlike the books’ agenda for Voldemort’s Nazi-esque vision, Grindelwald’s purpose is portrayed as being far more subtle and almost noble.
Played to perfection by Johnny Depp (who was almost Voldemort once upon a Goblet of Fire), Grindelwald’s presence and leadership is one driven by charisma, unlike the fear-mongering of his successor. Thankfully, Depp elects to drop his two decade-long disease of Jack-Sparrow-as-every-character, making Grindelwald not only an incredibly entertaining watch, but also a truly threatening presence.
Jude Law holds his own fair share of scene stealing moments with his interpretation of Albus Dumbledore, adding hitherto unseen depth to the character and setting up believably for the Michael Gambon rendition of Dumbledore.
That said, there is not shortage of scene stealers in The Crimes of Grindelwald. Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange is both tortured and tragic, offering the possibility of both villainy and heroism for the character’s path. Joining the new cohort of scene stealing actors, are Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler, returning as breakout Legilimens Queenie Goldstein and No-Maj baker Jacob Kowalski, who end up forming the emotional core of the film and, potentially, the series.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of so many new characters inevitably leads to a fair bit of pacing issues with each of them carrying their own tale. And as is wont with franchise characters, some carry the need to be better explored. Sadly, interest in characters aside, the segue into their backstories interrupts the flow of the narrative and feels almost like an unnecessary exposition or a convoluted plot point.
This one-time sin aside, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is yet another strong entry into the Harry Potter film franchise and stand alongside The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half-Blood Prince, if not slightly above.
The only sticking point however is a cameo by a certain character who should not yet have been born in the 1929 setting of the film…
Ultimately, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is both Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi.
Its dark reprise to its vibrant predecessor is a welcome turn in tone and sets up future instalments fantastically. But its new, mythology altering revelations, stand the risk of being indulgent if they don’t contribute or build towards the overall tale.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out in theatres now!