At the end of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, Hogwarts magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) had helped capture Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who’d been running rampant in New York City. The two parallel romantic story lines were both left open-ended.
In the first few minutes of David Yates's second installment, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the dark wizard escapes from prison and is on the loose again (because, of course). Young professor Dumbledore calls on Newt Scamander to meet him in London, where the great wizard does what Dumbledore does best: asks the impossible of a young, sloppy-haired, unlikely hero.
Even though Dumbledore is apparently Grindelwald’s only equal on the planet, Dumbledore manipulates Newt Scamander and pressures him to go to Paris to try to defeat defeat Grindelwald. Meanwhile, there’s Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who’s vulnerable to being seduced over to the dark side due to a parasite inside of him called an Obscurus.
Dictator Grindelwald tries to gain followers for his vision by holding racist rallies. He uses scare tactics and mushroom-cloud imagery in the middle of two world wars to argue his case to let the Wizarding World rule over muggles, or as we prefer here in the United States, No-Maj folk. Grindelwald’s pure-blood rhetoric combined with Johnny Depp’s icy blonde Aryan look make the allusions to Nazis and Trump all the more obvious. That in mind, it’s kind of ironic that The Crimes of Grindelwald also has more Black people than I’ve ever been able to spot in a Harry Potter movie before. (There’s even a late appearance from comedian/actor/Harry Potter superfan Jessica Williams!)
I will say: There wasn’t nearly enough Albus Dumbledore in this film. I’m also hoping the next movie will take the hints of Dumbledore’s homosexuality and romance with Grindelwald to the next level. In The Crimes of Grindelwald, it went as far as a slightly sensual hand hold that was apparently necessary for a spell, and Dumbledore saying, “We were closer than brothers” when the Ministry of Magic comes asking him to fight Grindelwald.
What I loved most about this movie is the power of the creatures in it, and Newt’s unique recognition of that power. It’s truly entertaining to watch him use a feather toy to tame and lure a Zouwu (five-colored elephant-sized cat) into his suitcase, which is also an animal sanctuary. I also liked Kelpie, a water-dwelling horse-like beast that appears to be made of seaweed.
And of course, the Nifflers! And baby Nifflers! And adorably injured-but-always-clutch-when-we-need-you Nifflers! We’re also finally getting the full story on when Dumbledore’s Phoenix came about, as well as Voldemort’s snake companion Nagini, whose former human form and companion to Credence is played here by Claudia Kim.
Zoe Kravitz is pretty flawless as the exceedingly clever Leta Lestrange, who was Newt's schoolyard dream girl who's now engaged to his brother (WHAAAT!?). I had a lot of questions going into this movie, but I may have had even more questions coming out.
I say all of that to say: DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE if you are not a Harry Potter nerd. If you aren’t going to immediately go home to discuss and consider various possible plot developments while your movie date reads you random opinions from the deep internet, do not go and see this movie. The thing is 134 minutes long, and the plot is thick and almost excruciatingly detailed. It might be difficult to follow if you’re not super fresh on your Harry Potter knowledge. I recommend seeing it at a theater with extremely comfortable seating, and not skimping on snacks.
Luckily, some truly remarkable cinematography and delightful cast of magical folk and beasts make the ride an enjoyable one, even when you’re feeling overwhelmed with new information.