Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Carmen Ejogo, Poppy Corby-Tuech
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a frantic movie – visually and narratively. So much happens to so many characters and the film is stuffed with so many marvels that by the end, I was both confused and exhausted. But I will admit that the sight of Hogwarts made me jump with delight.
First a little backstory – this is the 10th film in the Wizarding World franchise and the second in the five-film Fantastic Beasts series – it’s a sequel to the delightful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them. The story is situated in 1927, six months after the first film ends. You remember the big reveal there – that Percival Graves is actually Grindelwald, a famous dark wizard, in disguise. Johnny Depp, with white hair and mismatched pupils, stops and says with a sinister smile: Will we die, just a little? And the stage is set for an epic confrontation.
Even before the opening titles, Grindelwald has escaped. This is not a spoiler. You knew that would happen the minute he smirked and asked in the first film – You think you can hold me? Grindelwald then gets on with his business of putting into motion his grand, fascistic vision for a world in which purebreds rule over non-magic folks. Dumbledore, who says, “We were closer than brothers,” can’t fight him. So it is up to Newt Scamander, the shy, bumbling magizoologist to once again save the day.
There are many memorable characters in the series – starting with Newt himself. Eddie Redmayne, the Oscar-winning actor gives us a tender, sensitive superhero who we can root for. In an early scene, Dumbledore tells him: Do you know why I admire you Newt? You do not seek power. You simply ask, is a thing right? Jude Law as Dumbledore injects the film with a wonderful lightness of being. He exudes wisdom but he also has a sense of mischief and a capacity for love. In some scenes, he reminded me of an early Dev Anand – that same quality of a dashing gentleman. Dan Fogler is back as Jacob Kowalski, the non-maj who is now firmly entrenched in the magical world. There’s also half a dozen other characters and their back stories, including the snake-woman Nagini, Newt’s brother Theseus who is engaged to Leta Lestrange, who still has a soft spot for Newt, and lots of fantastic beasts – the cuddly nifflers make an appearance.
J. K. Rowling has written the screenplay from scratch – meaning it is not based on a book. The story is also a political thriller, which spells out the dangers of demonizing what’s different. At one point, Newt says: There are no strange creatures, only blinkered people.Which of course speaks directly to our world today. But what seems to be missing is magic. Of course there are many magical things onscreen – including some wonderfully creative creatures. Production designer Stuart Craig has also done a masterful job with recreating Paris in the twenties. But Crimes of Grindelwald is weighed down by the dense plot – by the end, I was struggling to keep up with who is doing what and who is on which side. And the fatal flaw is Johnny Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee, who does little with the titular role. Unlike Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort, Depp’s menace feels like posturing. You don’t feel the horror or the charisma.
I love the Harry Potter universe and I wish I could recommend this film with greater enthusiasm. It’s competent but not enchanting enough. I’m going with two and a half stars.