Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s an inherent magic to crafting a solid sequel. The potion needs to be more potent, the incantations more intense. Director David Yates and screenwriter J.K. Rowling seem to know a thing or two about how to make that enchanted formula pack a punch, having done so with the HARRY POTTER series. With FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, they craft a fully immersive world filled with wonder, spectacle and delight that goes beyond what the first film delivered. It’s a thrilling, breathtaking, fantastical extravaganza that masquerades as an allegory for our current social and political climate.
Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is about to face his greatest challenge yet: evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who’s amassing an army of dedicated followers to destroy the peace between the human and wizarding worlds. However, before Newt can even react to the news of Grindelwald’s impending threat, he’s got to put out fires on the home front: He’s facing the consequences for destroying New York City and no longer allowed to travel internationally. His brother Theseus (Callum Turner) is engaged to Newt’s childhood crush Leta Lastrange (Zoë Kravitz) and demands Newt join him in the Ministry of Magic. Newt’s current crush, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is in Paris, observing Grindelwald’s uprising and nursing a broken heart. And star-crossed lovers Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) show up on Newt’s doorstep, yearning to get married. In order to stop Grindelwald from persuading the omnipotent obscurial Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) to kill Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), Newt and company must confront demons haunting their past – and not everyone has the strength to survive.
The characters’ complexities and their relationship dynamics are, first and foremost, what make this sequel work better than the original. The Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired romance between Queenie and Jacob provides a strong emotional tether. We root for the budding relationship between sweethearts Newt and Tina to blossom. The theme of brotherhood – blood related and otherwise – also reverberates throughout the picture. This makes it easy to engage with this welcomed darker chapter. Not only are there more thought-provoking ideas here, but the ties to our real world feel palpable and pressing – Grindelwald’s rally in the third act being the most obvious example of this. A narcissistic dictator rallying his fan base through fear-mongering has historical roots, not just fictional ones. Sure, one can argue the first film sets up most of the above. Nevertheless, the filmmakers don’t waste a second paying it off whilst also weaving newer threads into the franchise’s fabric.
Stunt sequences have also gotten bigger and audacious. The fantasy element comes alive in these filmmakers’ capable hands. Indelible set pieces like Newt taming the humongous cat-dragon add necessary comedic relief in the right places. It’s wholly cinematic. The pursuit in the Parisian Ministry of Magic’s hall of records is riveting. Stuart Craig’s masterful production design is enchanting. Colleen Atwood’s costume design also raises the bar on the wardrobe from the first film, especially those fantastic coats (where can we find them?). Lestrange’s eggplant-color satin dress is evocative of Hollywood glamour that covers up her buried, lingering regret and sorrow. Nagini’s (Claudia Kim) sultry, dark blue bod con number reflects being bound by a curse.
Though it’s assuredly not what the filmmakers intended (as they wholeheartedly stand by their casting choices), swapping much-beloved Colin Farrell for publicly-derided Johnny Depp ironically enhances the audience’s loathing of his nefarious character. That said, in the hands of Depp, Grindelwald’s notable ambiguities corrode rather than calcify.
The picture’s pacing throws off the balance between the large action set pieces and the character-driven dramatics, making them too segregated rather than carefully interwoven. Still, there’s a lot to like about this second chapter, which surpasses the first – and leaves audiences craving a third.
‘FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD’ opens on November 16.