While the characters in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald cast spells like “avada kedavra” or “stupefy” on each other, the movie is weaving a subtler magic on the audience. Or perhaps it’s a curse. The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them casts a spell of nostalgia on its viewers, from the very start.
The Crimes of Grindelwald opens with those lightly tinkling piano keys—audience members pricking up their ears at the amazing and famous John Williams’ score as they settle in for another 2-plus hours in the Wizarding World™. And it’s extremely hard not to immediately lose yourself in this literally and metaphorically magical world. Where to Find Them aside, it’s been a long time since we have gotten a new taste of Harry Potter properties, and just like the return of Star Wars, a taste is all anyone wants. It doesn’t matter much how it tastes, just that it’s slightly familiar.
But Grindelwald doesn’t leave much time to savor the opening score—it leaps right into the action with an admittedly engaging escape scene. The eponymous character, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), breaks out from the clutches of the Ministry of Magic in the middle of a stormy midair chariot chase. Your usual Harry Potter fanfare.
After establishing the villain for this movie and the following three in this five-film series, The Crimes of Grindelwald slows down for a bit. The hero and protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is again refused a travel visa for his research on magical creatures. Once his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and his brother’s fiancée Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and the younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) are introduced, the film can really begin.
The plot, such as it is, of The Crimes of Grindelwald, is composed of scattered and disparate threads. Newt and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) journey to Paris to find their respective love interests, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a ministry auror, and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), a Legilimens (read: mind reader) and sister of Tina. Also in Paris are Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a downcast young wizard harboring an Obscurus—a dark magical form capable of massive destruction—and Nagini (Claudia Kim), a Maledictus (person cursed to turn into animal, in this case the large snake who runs in league with Voldemort) who befriends Credence, as well as Grindelwald himself.
There are a lot more characters in this movie who do “important” things, but they really don’t matter, and their names are just as much clutter in this review as their characters are in the film.
The gist of the film’s plot is there really isn’t one. Sure, Grindelwald is evil even while the movie tries to give him a more nuanced villainy (centered around the idea that humans are arrogant and power-hungry, capable only of destruction—this makes a bit of sense, considering this movie is set between the two World Wars). And yes, the Ministry is still problematic and totalitarian, imposing its weird and bureaucratic brand of justice and order on our beloved characters whose biggest crime is to push the boundaries of convention. But much like the first movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald spends over two hours carefully mortaring the existing brick and delicately placing itself on top of this small construction now two-fifths complete.
It’s here that the film capitalizes on the spell it has been weaving. None of this plot really matters, or is noticed at all, for all of the magic. This world that J.K. Rowling spent so much time building, on paper and on film, is absolutely captivating. There’s a reason that the world over is obsessed with Harry Potter and everything within wand’s reach of it. The Crimes of Grindelwald casts a glamour over its ultimately unsatisfactory plot with copious scenes of magic, new and interesting magical creatures, and callbacks or callforwards to beloved Harry Potter characters. Featured in The Crimes of Grindelwald to this effect are the boggart, Professor McGonagall, Nagini, Hogwarts, Nicolas Flamel (the immortal alchemist responsible for the creation of the sorcerer’s/philosopher’s stone), and more.
And the movie is fun because of this. The Crimes of Grindelwald is a very enjoyable movie— with no real ending. It’s just like its predecessor in this. But in the favor of the fans, if they liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, they will like Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures