The Crimes of Grindelwald leaves behind many questions, but I very much look forward to finding out the answers.
Not even for any of the eight Harry Potter films have I seen so much speculation around a film, mostly negative, before it has even been released. There was so much new lore hinted at through the trailers and articles leading up to The Crimes of Grindelwald’s release: Nagini as a Maledictus, the appearance of a young McGonagall and the introduction of Leta LeStrange. Fans have been torn over these new entries into the history of the Wizarding World, but do they work in the film? Mostly.
To give some context, The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place one year after the events of the first in 1927. Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has been captured by the American Ministry of Magic, MACUSA, but inevitably escapes when they try and transfer him to Europe. Seeking out Credence the Obscurus (Ezra Miller),Grindelwald plans to use the boy’s powerful magic to wreak havoc. Under the guidance of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), it is up to our favourite magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), to thwart his plans to take over both the wizarding and muggle worlds. The plot sounds fairly predictable, and not totally original, but what makes this film stand out is the sheer amount of wizarding history and references fans will understand from Harry Potter.
With this in mind, it is highly likely that a Potterhead like myself will enjoy this film more than your average cinema-goer. However, in the two and a quarter hour running time, and with three more films to follow, there is a sense that the over-arching storyline for the Fantastic Beasts films is being somewhat dragged out. Knowing what we do about what happened between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and Grindelwald’s eventual defeat at Dumbledore’s hand, the fact that we have five films in total means that we will surely be waiting for a long time to reach this moment and consequently there is a lot of filler in between. This is pretty much the premise for this film: large amounts of set-up for what is to come later, with some magical, titular creatures thrown in for good measure. However, the film is no less cinematic and entertaining for it.
For Potter fans, as I have mentioned, the references to established lore, both big and small, are fun to uncover as the film plays out. Most memorably, we finally return home to Hogwarts, and as John Williams’ enchanting ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ plays, the castle is a very welcome sight. We see Dumbledore teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, though we know he becomes a Transfiguration professor later in his career, and he refers to one of his students, a Gryffindor, as McLaggen, presumably Cormac’s grandfather. We even see an, albeit confusing, cameo from a young Professor McGonagall; although I worship McGonagall as the bad-ass, incredible witch that she is, this needs some explaining in the next film. Given what we know about her timeline, she wasn’t born until 1935, and seeing as J.K. Rowling herself wrote the screenplay, there surely has to be more to this than a lazy oversight. Overall, the scenes based in Hogwarts, including one in which we see a young Newt (Joshua Shea) learning how to deal with boggarts under Dumbledore, are very enjoyable, and I for one absolutely loved the slight differences to be seen in the old-style uniforms.
Elsewhere the film is characterised by a much darker tone. As well as Newt, played brilliantly as ever by Redmayne, we are once again reunited with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and lovable no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). However, all of these ‘main’ characters take a backseat for much of the film, as there are so many different characters involved. We also see Credence’s journey to find his true family and identity, accompanied by the mysterious Nagini (Claudia Kim), who has been travelling in a freak show due to her ability to transform into the snake we know her to be from Harry Potter. Knowing that, due to her blood curse as a Maledictus, she is soon to be forced into her snake form forever, it is tragic to see Nagini in her fragile human form. The ever-mysterious Leta Lestrange is also prominent, who, though a new character in the franchise, only leads to more questions being asked about the history and indeed future of the Lestrange family. Johnny Depp is fantastic as Grindelwald, a perfect balance between evil and charismatic, a perfect dictator in the making, and you can really see why Dumbledore would have once fallen for him. But the star of the film is without a doubt Jude Law as Dumbledore, who steals every scene he is in with his effortless charm and likeability.
Bringing some light-heartedness back into the film are of course Newt’s wonderful collection of magical beasts. The collection grows in this film, adding the impressive Zouwu, a gigantic beast of Chinese origins who is a bit like a crossover between a cat and a creature from Where the Wild Things Are. The magnificent Kelpie also makes its debut, an elegant and beautiful water creature with a nasty bite. But of course, you can’t have a Fantastic Beasts film without the Niffler, and for extra audience appeal, this time it’s had babies. That’s right, we are treated to baby nifflers in this film, and it is pure bliss. All jokes aside, the original Niffler really earns its place in this film, playing a pivotal role in the plot.
Despite main events moving at a fairly slow pace, there are no real moments of boredom in this film. You will come out asking many questions, and feeling frustration at the fact that you won’t get answers for at least another two years – but that’s just part of the fun with Rowling, right? The novelty of the first film may be gone, but there is just enough substance in the sequel to justify more films – let’s just hope that continues to be the case. This is a great Potter-fest for fans, but even for those who are not so invested in the franchise, the acting delivered by Redmayne, Depp and especially Law alone makes this film worth a watch.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), directed by David Yates, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros., certificate 12A.