If watching a “Harry Potter” film feels like coming home, watching “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” feels like being lost in your childhood neighborhood. The movie seems to wander aimlessly through the familiar wizarding world, and while it manages some aspects the “Harry Potter” universe quite well, it falls flat with others.
The “Fantastic Beasts” sequel centers on the search for Credence (Ezra Miller) and attempts to discover his true identity. While trying to find Credence before Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) does, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) find themselves in the middle of a magical battle between good and evil, all while handling magical creatures along the way.
Director David Yates is no amateur at bringing magical worlds to life, and his influence is evident through the way the movie handles Easter eggs and minute details that eagle-eyed fans will spot from the original series. From owls delivering mail to the Ministry of Magic (mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) to the appearance of the beloved Defense Against The Dark Arts classroom, Yates’ comprehensive knowledge of the series and homage to its authenticity shone through.
The cinematography, on the other hand, was too stylized and confusing. The constant movement and extreme close-ups did not feel like Yates’ work at all. Fans of his previous “Harry Potter” films will yearn for his characteristic drained color palettes and slow panning shots that allow the viewer to take in an entire scene, rather than stare at half of Newt’s face. This cinematography made the action sequences impossible to follow, and a single bout of shaky cam left me confused and annoyed.
The introduction of new characters was not handled well and left me confounded. While some familiar family names were present (looking at you, Lestrange and McLaggen), the plot and its new characters did not fit seamlessly into the knowledge that Harry Potter fans already had, nor was it explained well enough along the way.
The new actors, however, thrived in their roles. Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange was perfect, and she gave us license to love a Lestrange (the notoriously evil family that fans grew to despise in the original series). Jude Law’s young Dumbledore was witty and attractive, and he captured the character just as Richard Harris did in the first two movies (aka correctly). Law even looks like a young Harris and charms as the lauded professor. Law brought back the witty, magical and charming aura of Harry Potter, especially when we get to see young Dumbledore teach at Hogwarts. When he was on screen, everything felt like “Harry Potter” again.
Arguably the most controversial casting was Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald, but his performance was enticing and strong. Once again, Depp dazzles as his character acting experience met his more serious, dramatic work to create a chilling, charming Grindelwald. His soft voice and powerful leadership made him a compelling villain, fit to rival Dumbledore and fit for the “Harry Potter” universe. I, for one, cannot wait to see him continue to build his role in the next films.
Redmayne returns as Newt Scamander, our favorite magizoologist, who is adorable and endearing. Newt is easy to love, and that is thanks to Redmayne’s incredible character work and soft-spoken humor.
Overall, the plot was difficult to follow and somewhat uninteresting. Having grown up with the characters of “Harry Potter,” there is a certain expectation that comes with a new installment. We just don’t know these characters, and that makes it harder to connect with the world we have come to love. The overuse of computer-generated imagery (CGI) also alienates the viewer. The magic in “Harry Potter” was all about wonder and discovery, and the beauty of the original series was the emotional connections we had to the characters and world. The CGI takes away that humanity, and it now feels like there is magic for the sake of the effects. We also never quite learn about magical life outside of Hogwarts, and being thrust into the magical adult world with no guidance is disorienting.
While the magic does seem less magical and the characters more distant, a lot of care was taken to integrate this storyline into the history we learned from the original series. As all Potterheads know, Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s battle lines up with World War II, and this movie nods to that in an unexpected way. These films are definitely gearing toward a more synthesized plot, and I expect that we will get to know the new faces better. Laying the groundwork for an extension of one of the most beloved series of all time in an hour and a half is certainly a daunting task. I am willing to put my faith in J.K. Rowling, Yates and all of the actors, and will certainly be seeing the rest of these films. After all, no matter how disjointed and CGI-filled these movies are, it is still “Harry Potter,” and we are still coming home.