The Harry Potter Universe has come to theaters once again with the second of its expanded universe films, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. In theaters Friday, November 16, 2018 through Warner Bros. Pictures, the sequel follows the events of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them where the titular villain Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp: Pirates of the Caribbean films, Sleepy Hollow 1999) was captured by the American Ministry of Magic, and his quick and violent escape. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second in a planned 3 film series, and gets a bit too excessive and complex for its own good, but still manages to hold onto enough of the Potter charm to make it worthwhile.
Again, directed by David Yates (Harry Potter film series, The Legend of Tarzan 2016), the film hits the ground running with the thrilling escape of Grindelwald during his transfer from the U.S. to Europe. Upon returning, he immediately continues his plan of creating a dominant order of wizards who would rule over all muggles, or ordinary non-magical folk. To do this, he needs to cause major upheaval in wizard society, inevitably going to war with the muggle world and taking it by force. That is a feasible, if difficult, goal, as he and his wizards-first philosophy has significant support in the wizarding world.
Meanwhile, Hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne: The Theory of Everything 2014, Black Death 2010) is back in England and is recruited to stop Grindelwald by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law: Sherlock Holmes 2009, Road to Perdition 2002), who for reasons of his own, cannot personally do so. Newt is quite content to not be involved in auror business, and does not believe he has to pick a side in any of this. Not taking the situation seriously will come back to bite him.
Got all that? Because it is barely scratching the surface of the amount of characters and plot points crammed into this movie. Most of the previous film’s cast reprise their roles, but half of them could have not returned and it would have made the story smoother. There are too many characters and not enough time to make them all matter, though that is not for lack of trying.
The American characters are a mixed bag. Dan Fogler (The Walking Dead series, Barely Lethal 2015) returns as Jacob Kowalski, the droll muggle who gets in over his head in the first film, as does his love interest Queenie (Alison Sudol: Between Us 2016, Other People’s Children 2015), the young and rebellious witch who pursues a forbidden relationship with a non-mage. It feels like their story arc concluded in the first film and they don’t add much to the story in the sequel. Jacob’s goofy antics seem out of place in the mission of this film, which is much darker than the first. The story struggles to find a meaningful place for them and by the end it feels especially forced.
Queenie’s older sister Tina (Katherine Waterston: Alien: Covenant 2017, Steve Jobs 2015) is a different matter. Her return makes perfect sense because of her unresolved history with Newt and the villains. She is promoted to auror after the events of the first film, and as the person with the most experience against the current threat on the American side, it’s only natural that she be among those trying to take down Grindelwald.
There is also the curious inclusion of Voldemort’s future giant snake companion, Nagini. She is probably the least useful and most forgettable part of this movie because the script had nothing for her to do besides escape her circus sideshow. She barely even speaks. Giving characters backstory is a good idea only if it can add something to them, but we get nothing new or really interesting about Nagini.
Even though it is bloated, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald still has most of the strengths the franchise is known for. The film looks amazing and the actors are all top class. There is a very high bar for those things in the series and even the characters who did not need to be there shine when they are on screen. This is the sort of story expensive CGI is made for and it works wonders here. From the thrilling opening sequence, to the cataclysmic ending, and all the magical creatures in between, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald makes fans feel right at home in the Potterverse from the get go.
The story itself is very dark and quite good despite being overthought. Grindelwald’s plan does feel a bit derivative of Voldemort’s but his character has a different sort of evil aura about him. A sharper, more organized type of villain that lacks Voldy’s ugliness and jovial approach to evil. He’s more of a professional personality, which was needed to have the series stand on its own.
There is more, much more. More characters, twists, revelations about other characters in the Potterverse, and more still. Far too much is crammed into 134 minutes and it takes away from the parts that matter the most. Focusing on Newt, Tina, the various magical authorities with and against them, and maybe one of the side characters would have been plenty. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Fantastic Beast: The Crimes of Grindelwald 3.5. out of 5 stars.