FILM REVIEW – FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD. With Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Johnny Depp. Written by J. K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates. Rated PG for brief rude humor. 134 minutes.
If you’re not invested in the Potterverse (i.e., the Harry Potter books and movies) and haven’t seen the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie, the FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is not the film with which to be introduced to the world of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Potter books and is now writing the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. However, if you are among the initiated, this second chapter in a planned five-film series ratchets up the tensions introduced in this series.
The center of attention is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who collects and tends the magical animals of the wizarding world and was a favorite of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Although Scamander’s misadventures in the previous film has led the Ministry of Magic to forbid him foreign travel, Dumbledore sends him to Paris in an attempt to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a mysterious orphan who is also being sought by Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). Dumbledore and Grindelwald were close friends in their student days but are now on opposite sides of a fight in which Grindelwald looks for those with magic to rule over the non-magical “muggles.”
Newt is accompanied by his muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), who has been brought to Europe by Queenie (Alison Sudol), who loves Jacob even though she is magical and he is not, a relationship forbidden in the wizarding world. Newt is in love with Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterston), who is seeking Credence on behalf of the Ministry of Magic. These characters are all running around Paris while Grindelwald gathers support, along with Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), also working for the Ministry and set to marry Lita Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), with whom Newt has a history.
This is a movie in which little will be resolved by film’s end, because there’s so much more story to come. There are dazzling special effects and “fantastic beasts” galore, including Nagini (Claudia Kim), who is under a curse causing her to turn into a giant snake, a change that will eventually become permanent. Potter fans will recognize that she is doomed to become the pet of the evil Voldemort, villain of the Potter series, and if that doesn’t resonate for you, you might want to go back to the beginning. There are many such callouts to the early books/movies, such as an appearance by Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) who is cited as the creator of the “philosopher’s stone” in the very first Potter adventure.
As a newcomer to the series, Jude Law cuts a nice figure as the young Dumbledore, although one suspects his character will be further developed in later movies. Depp, who was revealed as Grindelwald at the end of the last film, is an arch villain, coming across as perfectly reasonable when he reveals the horrors that the muggle world will cause in the future of World War II (the story is set in the 1920s), but then shows he’s capable of some horrors himself.
For Rowling’s loyal fans – who are legion – this is an exciting next chapter. For those who haven’t really paid much attention, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” may provide some fantastic moments but may seem otherwise impenetrable.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.