When the original set of “Harry Potter” movies came to a close with part 2 of “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows” back in 2011, it marked what everyone thought was the end of Harry’s Wonderful World, at least on the big screen. Yet the Wizarding World created by J.K. Rowling continued to live on in fans’ fertile imaginations, addendum books, interviews and a thriving web-based community.
Then in 2016, the first “Fantastic Beasts” hit theaters, and Potter Mania got its second wind. And now, with the arrival of the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel, “The Crimes Of Grindelwald,” the franchise is poised for even greater heights.
Still starring Eddie Redmayne as the socially awkward Newt Scamander, magical zoologist extraordinaire, the movie takes place a few months after the events of the first. After a welcome look at the magical world of 1920’s America, things pick up in this film once again in Europe as newt and his friends, Jake Kowalski, played by Dan Folder, and the Goldstein sisters, Tina and Queenie, played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, find themselves having to choose a side in a coming confrontation nobody wanted but can’t afford to avoid.
Johnny Depp inhabits the role of Gellert Grindelwald with a controlled enthusiasm, exuding a vibe of knowing much more than you ever will. And because we see him in the prime of his powers, there are times and displays of magic that make him a bigger threat than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named ever was.
Having the events set in the past, as this entire film series does, grants some advantages. A different era can provide for a different feel or aesthetic while still remaining similar enough to the originals so as not to be completely foreign or of putting. There’s the idea of a sort of offset nostalgia, where you see your favorite characters in a different time and setting, and seeing them in their more formative years.
This trick worked well for the most part for George Lucas and the “Star Wars” prequels (as long as we forget the midichlorean, were ever mentioned), and the “Clone Wars” television series, which covered the development of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. The same is true here in a smaller way as we see a younger Albus Dumbledore, expertly played by Jude Law, come to grips with his place in opposition to Grindelwald.
But this road also has its potholes. Tampering with the past will always have repercussions for the future, and no matter how careful, there’s always the odd inconsistency that arises from the new information. 1920’s wizards and witches were much more with the times, going around in suits and overcoats and in more muggle clothes. Even Dumbledore sported a vest and slacks, cutting a dashing, preppy image in his Defense of the Dark Arts Classroom. It makes one wonder then if a side effect of the war with Voldermort was that everyone in the Wizarding World grew more comfortable with wearing robes.
The plot of the film feels a tad uneven, even with its over two hour runtime, it feels like things just happen and most of the characters have very little agency. Much of the information gained doesn’t feel earned and just happened upon.
But what the series has going for it is how fully utilized magic is. As fun as it was to learn the spells and enchanted items alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione in the original series, none of them ever came close to doing the things the witches and wizards do in the “Fantastic Beasts” series. And when before we rallied and got our hearts entangled with the main trio, here, it is the creatures that capture our hearts more. “Fantastic Beasts” is aptly named and fantastically so.
The themes and tone are also more grown up, and much darker. You can tell there’s not going to be a much of a resolution in this instalment, there are three more to go after all. And yet, so far, the series has been able to build up a sense of gravitas and impending doom that rivals the return of Voldermort.
There are many twists and surprises as the story progresses, but the one at the very end was, to borrow muggle parlance, a veritable wand-drop. As much as Harry’s Hogwarts was loved by all, “Fantastic Beasts” creates a different allure. Magic became more sophisticated. The nuances are deeper. Adults of the real muggle world, of which we are a part of, will get more out of these films than the children. In essence, the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise caters to those that have already grown up with the previous films. These movies are now more for the mature thinkers than the youth. Yes, there is wonder to behold… but scenes may be darker than most children can handle.
And with that, parents with young children, we suggest you watch it first before you bring your children. There’s a LOT you’ll need to explain.
There are three more to go for the planned five-film series. And we say “BRILLIANT!” to that. The Magic lives on.