Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
This sequel to the Harry Potter prequel is a tad heavy-handed and its racial politics don’t always hold up, but it’s more tonally assured than its predecessor and exploits the Potter nostalgia fruitfully
The Harry Potter franchise has always been a tale of family: the ones you make along the way if not always the ones you’re born with. This is at the heart of its spinoff’s latest instalment – though taken to, admittedly, convoluted extremes.
Potter-verse veteran David Yates returns to helm Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which picks up in 1920s New York, months after “magizoologist” Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) aided the capture of “muggle”-hating dissident Gellert Grindelwald (a pointedly Aryan-looking Johnny Depp). Newt, back in London, shrinks from his newfound fame; Tina has been reinstated as an Auror (wizard law enforcement); and Grindelwald, predictably, makes a prison break at the start of the film. A much younger Albus Dumbledore (an admirably considered performance from Jude Law) tasks his former student Newt with locating American obscurial Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) – who's in Paris searching for his lost mother – before he runs afoul of Grindelwald, armed with nefarious intentions, or the Aurors, likely to kill him.
Dense plotting and heavy-handed World War II parallels sometimes weigh down the film, and its racial politics don’t always hold up either: Nagini – a name with Sanskrit origins – is played by South Korean actress Claudia Kim, who brings a much-needed sincerity to an ultimately sidelined role. Beasts does, however, earnestly negotiate compelling questions of identity – of lineage and blood, history and displacement – which suggests, at least, it registers clearly what a figure like Grindelwald represents and the terrible cost of the order he seeks. Credence and the troubled Leta Lestrange (an understated, haunting Zoë Kravitz) – Newt’s boyhood crush and now the fiancée of his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) – both embody precisely this trauma (familial and even diasporic) that the film laments.
A lot here works: it’s more tonally assured than its predecessor and, bar certain eye-rolling climatic revelations, exploits the Potter nostalgia fruitfully. Hardly a masterpiece, Crimes still delivers a fun, satisfyingly dramatic ride, and mostly succeeds at recreating the visual, exquisitely cinematic magic of its forebear.
Released by Warner Bros, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out now