‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ review: A fan-friendly, no-spoiler examination
The trailer for "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" is here.
Jude Law makes a dynamic, cagey young Dumbledore in a sequel that's more of a placeholder
It’s tricky business, expanding a beloved pop-culture canon. Just ask Rian Johnson, derided by dudebros everywhere for taking “Star Wars” in an unexpected direction. Or, you know, George Lucas, who retroactively destroyed a million childhoods with the abomination that was “The Phantom Menace.”
See, some of us take this stuff a wee bit too seriously. But like Oliver Twist, we keep coming back to say, “Please, Sir, I want some more.”
And for “Harry Potter” fans, “more” was definitely the main attraction of 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which launched a prequel series written by J.K. Rowling herself.
Like the original “Harry Potter” novels, its primary appeal was not in plot but in world creation. It was more, but it wasn’t just more of the same. Rowling and director David Yates took us back in time and across the pond to the Wizarding World of 1920s America, with its own culture, its own politics, and its own, all-business lingo (“No-Maj” vs. the British “Muggle,” for ordinary humans). And as the title promised, the screenwriter’s whimsical imagination — and the many animators’ digital fingers — gifted us with a menagerie of new mythical creatures to dream about keeping in the back yard.
The second installment, of a planned five, is “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” and while it is a perfectly serviceable placeholder in the larger series, its contributions to the Potterverse are disappointingly minor.
RELATED: 'Fantastic Beasts' spoilers
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the shy English wizard with hangdog face and hair, is back in London (so long, New World, we hardly knew ye), where he meets a 40-something Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), a popular professor at Hogwarts (where the teachers apparently favored suits over wizard robes in 1927).
For fans, learning more about the young Dumbledore is really what the “Fantastic Beasts” series is all about. We know he hasn’t led a perfect life, and here we get a glimpse of his arrogant, manipulative side as he maneuvers Newt into taking on a dangerous mission in Paris. But it’s just a glimpse, and we only get a sliver more of the backstory with the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).
Law’s cagey performance is tantalizing perfect. This Dumbledore is dynamic and maybe a little bit dangerous. More, please. As for Johnny Depp — looking a bit Malcolm McDowellish these days — he’s, well, fine as Grindelwald. He’s not doing Jack Sparrow, at least. But as a villain, he’s no Voldemort. The real trick in future films will be to make us see in him what Dumbledore once did.
The film opens with a spectacularly gothic sequence depicting Grindelwald’s escape from an American prison. Newt’s job is to track him down, and that’s all you’ll read about the plot in this review, other than that its overcomplications lead to a few shaggy ends that are best not tugged on, and also leaves less room to develop the new characters, including Newt’s enigmatic ex, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a French-African wizard with a bone to pick with Leta’s family.
The visuals are, of course, fantastic, with grand spaces and cleverly imagined magical gadgets popping out of every corner of the screen. However, the trip to France does not include a detour to Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, something on many fans’ bucket lists for the series.
And, drat, the critter count is down as well. Sure, there are some baby Nifflers, and several new monsters including exotic species from China (the Zouwu, which is not a dragon but may remind you of the Luck Dragon from “The Neverending Story”) and Japan (the Kappa, a water demon from folklore that also gives its name to “kappa maki” — those cucumber rolls you order from the sushi bar). Although a couple of Newt’s “friends” figure into the action, the whole loner-Magizoologist thing just isn’t at the center anymore, which may be good for Newt’s romantic prospects, but it definitely dulls his appeal in “The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Rowling, Yates, are you getting the message?
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‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,’ 3 stars
Director: David Yates.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Zoë Kravitz.
Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.
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