The Crimes of Grindelwald: Welcome back to the world of Harry Potter
- Credit: Archant
With the release of JK Rowling’s new Fantastic Beasts movie, we return to the magical world of Harry Potter. Arts editor Andrew Clarke is impressed with how well the new story meshes with the previous installments
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; dir: David Yates; starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz Cert: 12A 134 mins
If the first Fantastic Beasts movie laid out the new landscape in JK Rowling’s wizarding world, then this second feature then weaves that stylishly retro, roaring twenties urban terrain into the more contemporary world of the known Harry Potter universe.
We get to see Hogwarts, timeless and unchanged, along with characters we know and love – Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagal – along with house elves and some darker witches and wizards which in time may well become Death Eaters.
If the first film was all about discovering Fantastic Beasts, this second movie in what appears to be a well-though-out franchise, is all about providing an exciting, dramatic and meaningful history to the Harry Potter universe.
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While long time Potter director David Yates and JK Rowling clearly want to connect with what has gone before, they equally want these Fantastic Beasts films to tell new stories. These aren’t simple prequels, these are new stories about new people, but they inhabit a world which we know and love – albeit in an earlier age.
The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up from where Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them left off. It introduces us to a new dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, played with commendable stillness by Johnny Depp. There’s a charismatic malevolence about his performance which makes Grindelwald a dangerous but very different enemy to Voldemort.
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As the film is set in the 1920s, there are echoes to the rise of nationalism and the Nazi party, and although Grindelwald has some uncomfortable and unpleasant things to say about keeping the wizarding races pure you can see why ordinary people maybe drawn towards such an eloquent speaker, particularly when these words are combined with a Nuremburg style rally.
One of the great joys of this film is that its hero Newt Scamander is a mild-mannered cross between David Attenborough and Matt Smith’s version of Dr Who. He is a man for whom action and adventure don’t come naturally but give him a love interest or two and a competitive brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), then world events start to have some meaning and there is a tangible sense of danger because Newt now has something to lose.
Whereas the first film was firmly based in 1920s New York, this next chapter in the story has a much more global feel with important sequences also taking place in London and Paris. The threat posed by Depp’s ice-cold Gellert Grindelwald, looking not too dis-similar to 1980s rock star Billy Idol, is much more global.
He wants to make pure-blood wizards not just the ruling classes but wants to make the Muggles a slave-race. His new-found friends from New York track him down in London to inform him that his erst-while love Tina Goldstein (Waterston) from the American ministry is in Paris on Grindelwald’s trail.
It appears that Tina is less than happy with her former boyfriend because the gossip mags are suggesting that the glamorous Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) has her eye on Newt. JK Rowling is very good at building complex worlds and introducing us to three-dimensional characters which then means we have an emotional investment in what happens to them – which also means we are kept on the edge of our seats when Rowling and Yates throw all sorts of danger their way.
For reasons too complicated to go into here Dumbledore can’t directly engage with Grindelwald and persuades Newt to be his agent in Paris, something Newt is ambivalent about until he discovers Tina is in danger and he sets out to rescue her with the help of his menagerie of strange creatures kept in his capacious suitcase.
As the film unwinds, the action sequences come thick and fast as David Yates orchestrates some dazzling set-piece sequences, one featuring a spectacular Chinese dragon. Newt also undertakes some clever scenes of crime investigation, uncovering and then following traces of the recent past. I would if JK Rowling has only just thought of that because if that magic was available to Harry Potter years down the road it would have made tracing Voldemort an awful lot easier.
The look of the film is terrific, the period detail gives the Fantastic Beasts movie different vibe. Redmayne proves that he can carry a franchise movie while still conjuring up a sensitive, low-key character.
Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol again impress as Tina and Queenie Goldstein and are clearly in the story for the long haul. Katherine’s character Tina is developing nicely into a complex person, courtesy of JK Rowling’s writing, and it will be interesting to see where she goes to in future films.
Although, I would have like more of a conclusion, and a few less characters to keep track of, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a hugely enjoyable film – although at the very end it needs to say “to be continued” because after a wild ride, the narrative just leaves you hanging, waiting for the next instalment.
Preview screening arranged courtesy of Cineworld, Ipswich.