Courtesy of Warner Bros, Pictures
The Wizarding World just got a lot bigger.
Playing like a novella capable of filling your Netflix binge for eight hours, the overstuffed but satisfying new fantasy adventure, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is stacked with compelling new characters, twisty revelations, and fan nuggets galore. But the only way to keep them all in check would require your own spell book from Hogwarts.
Encapsulated in a sea of CGI gunk that doesn’t provide any favors to director David Yates bottom line, “Grindelwald,” running a Rowling high of 134 minutes, keeps things moving in delirious succession. The year is 1927, and Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp sporting his usual thick layer of makeup) has been imprisoned by the American Ministry of Magic for crimes against the magic community. In a sequence that would’ve been awesome and intense if not for poor mood lighting and editing, Grindelwald employs his legion of followers to bust him out before reaching Europe.
Three months past and we’re back in the present with Grindelwald evading capture and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) trying to secure access for international travel in pursuit of his Zoologist studies. Much to his dismay, Theseus (Callum Turner), his brother, who works for the British Ministry, while engaged to his Hogwarts sweetheart Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) also wants Newt to join him as an Auror, which to you and me, is the magic police.
Newt is still as whimsical, silly, and kind-hearted as we left him, making his characteristics numb to societies pressures, and he refuses the ministries offer. Meanwhile, worlds away, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his pupil to visit Paris and track down Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) - who managed to survive the events from “Fantastic Beasts.” Spoiler alert: He’s still got the violent parasite Obscurus roaming inside him. If you think that's stretching it, I haven’t even begun to set up the main plot.
Newt reunites with his old Muggle pal Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) whose memory comes swooping back; one of the many subplots that never feels warranted involves him and Queenie Goldstein’s (Allison Sudol) illegal engagement. As for Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterson), she’s already in Paris on the prowl for Grindlewald.
From here on out, Rowling’s narrative spars into a conundrum of scenarios. Like the author had ideas recycled from “Harry Potter” she felt the need to toss in as easter eggs. You’ll undoubtedly cry at the first glance of Hogwarts (complete with the iconic score which sizzles on que). Further, we find out intriguing elements from Dumbledore’s past, and see his early days as the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor.
Lucky for us, the complicated ideals, while plenty, allows Rowling the freedom to trust her fanbase with the material. Newt still remains the most interesting hero punctuating blockbuster cinema today, offering those with social awkwardness the feeling of being accepted. His relationship with Tina is gooey in all the right ways, permitting Redmayne to harness Newt’s tics and mannerisms. The Oscar winner is clearly in his element.
It’s hard to keep other devices going when Rowling can’t decide who needs more focus. And because the rest of the movie is thrilling and fun, the shortcomings add up extensively. However, “Grindelwald” seems to keep the promise entrusted from the start: That we can finally see the Wizarding World through the lens of adults. The actual investigation conducted by Newt, Tina, and everyone else provides the best narrative in the entire film. It just would’ve worked better had the filmmakers not made the timing feel like an afterthought. The huge twist is not as satisfying or revealing as Warner Bros would have you think.
Still. Johnny Depp is given his meatiest role in years (sorry Jack Sparrow) thus proving he’s the gold standard when given a proper medium. Likewise for Law as Dumbledore, who faced his lion's share of online criticism. Hopefully the naysayers bite their words and crawl back into the hole where they came from.
Look, “Grindelwald” was always going to satisfy those of us itching for our Hogwarts acceptance letter. It’s commendable entertainment, except I’m not sure how fans will take to the realization that “Grindelwald” is a bridge in the franchise. If the idea of five more sequels is appealing to you, hunker down for the long haul. The rest of us can only hope the magic stays constant.