At the start of The Crimes of Grindewald, everything is buggered. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne)and his friends are scattered across the globe. The Wizarding World is deeply divided and preparing for war. And the dark lord Grindelwald is on the loose and waging a campaign to turn his fellow wizards against their non-magical cousins. It’s a serious departure from the larking about with mooncrows and erumpents of its predecessor. But while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was far from faultless, it’s childish sense of wonder made it an irresistible rush to watch. This grown-up sequel doubles down on the low-stakes, diffuse plotting, and loses the dazzling novelty that made the first film such a frothy delight.
One year on from his violent assault on New York City, Grindewald (Johnny Depp) mounts a spectacular escape from a flying stagecoach while on route to stand trial in Europe. Unable to move against his former lover, Dumbledore (Jude Law) sends his favourite former pupil, Newt – now a mildly famous author – to Paris to hunt him down. It’s a lean, enticing set-up, but rarely is there much tension or a sense of urgency to the adventure, as J.K. Rowling and director David Yates get bogged down in unengaging subplots and unnecessary backstories. Newt spends more time pining for love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston, again given very little to work with) than thwarting Grindelwald’s plot. A complicated history between the Magizoologist, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and his fiancé Leta (Zoë Kravitz) is hinted at without being fully resolved. Meanwhile, Grindelwald is seemingly content to sit back and wait for the pieces of his scheme to fall into place. These distractions result in Credence’s (Ezra Miller) search for belonging – the fulcrum around which the entire series pivots – being crowded out and feeling not as vital as it should.
Yet there’s still plenty of magic to be found. From Newt’s basement menagerie to the ornately detailed realisation of 1920s Paris, the mastery of craft and attention to detail in the production values is mightily impressive. It provides the perfect platform from which Yates launches a series of breathtaking set-pieces, including a thrilling raid on the French Ministry of Magic.
Redmayne ably anchors the action this time around, giving the big-hearted Newt more confidence and assurance as he throws himself into harms way for the greater good. While many are justifiably frustrated by the coy allusions to Dumbledore’s sexuality, there’s no denying Law perfectly captures the twinkling charm of a more youthful, mischievous professor. Depp is also perfect (if controversial) casting as Grindelwald, whose bleached blonde hair, wounded eye and zeal for rhetoric normalising horrific attitudes towards muggles makes for a chillingly pernicious presence on screen.
Watching a ridiculous-haired demagogue with a knack for manipulating vulnerable witches and wizards to his cause is too close to reality not be terrifying, culminating in a highly charged political rally and an emotional gut-punch of an ending that leaves everyone questioning their loyalties. It’s proof that there’s a powerful story to be told… if only Rowling and Yates could get on with telling it.
Runtime: 134 mins (approx.)
Director: David Yates
Screenwriter: J. K. Rowling
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller