Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being transported from America to Europe to face prosecution for his crimes on European soil. Unsurprisingly, he escapes, and builds an army of followers to help him create a wizarding world of entirely pure-blooded wizards. Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists the help of Newt (Eddie Redmanye) to help move against the dark wizard.
Five films are planned in the Fantastic Beasts arm of the franchise. This does create a few problems because the second part of series doesn’t really feel like a complete film as it makes very little headway in the story. Instead, the film moves the pieces into place for the climax in about three movies time. For casual or non-fans of the franchise this is going to create problems because a large part of the movie is dedicated to giving the character’s their own backstories. The fans may perhaps like it, but a causal fan isn’t going to care too much about old Harry Potter yore.
However, as someone who has read the books, watched the films, listened to the audio books, and played (some) of the video games (I have not seen the stage play) I did enjoy the film for the reason it provided some backstory to a well-loved character. Jude Law plays Dumbledore exceptionally well, getting the charisma and twinkle in his eye but even the blindest Potter fan can see that multiple movies of very little progress will only be a hindrance to the series.
Many of the issues above are directly related to J.K Rowling’s script. As great of a world builder she is, the film spends far too much time developing backstory and thus being needlessly convoluted. Somehow the film manages, simultaneously, to be convoluted and complex yet make little progress. This is mostly because of the multiple plot stands the film has from Credence’s search for his parents, the various relationships (Queenie and Jacob, Tina and Newt, Leta and Newt, Dumbledore and Newt, Dumbledore and Grindelwald), Newt’s beef with the ministry, Dumbledore’s beef with the ministry, Grindelwald’s quest for the followers. It’s too much for one movie.
There are positives to Rowling’s screenplay and these are mostly found when the story is making steps forward in the narrative. The film’s themes of racial purity, comparative to events in Nazi Germany (bear in mind the time the film is set), are interesting and timely (and not dissimilar to Rowling’s previous thematic material in the Potter world). The film even starts in the darkest possible manner with the murder of an entire muggle Parisian family, but that does not set a stall for a film with an ever-changing tone.
The performances are committed, Eddie Redmayne radiates charm and likeability as the awkward Newt, Dan Folger brings comic relief to the role as the fish out of water muggle in the wizarding world and Zoe Kraviz is the best of the newcomers. Katherine Waterson and Allison Sudol are given too little to do and Ezra Miller is the weakest of the lot simply because I can’t see what he’s trying to do. Is he playing social awkward? Mysterious and sociopathic? Moody and brooding? I don’t know. The character is an emotional centrepiece, an orphan like Harry Potter, so it feels Ezra’s bland and emotionless portrayal is a waste of great potential. Depp makes for a good villain, but the franchise need to ditch some of its flabbiness.