Monday, December 10, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

David Yates’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” written by J. K. Rowling is the second of five planned Harry Potter prequels. When I saw the first one two years ago, I wasn’t particularly impressed as the HP universe had been extremely Americanized, which wasn’t becoming at all. I had expected the movie to be in the same tone and spirit as the Harry Potter movies, which it wasn’t as it seemed catered to an American audience, but this time I knew that in advance, and watching FB2 with that in mind, I liked it much better than its predecessor.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” lasts 2 hours and 14 minutes and has a 12A PG rating and within these limitations it tells the story of the magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who in 1927 is sent to Paris to locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) whom the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) believes to be Corvus Lestrange, the last of a long line of pure-blood wizards, and the only person who can kill Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law).
    Newt’s American friends are looking for Credence too, so they all end up in Paris, where they encounter a wizarding freak show, the French Ministry of Magic, the immortal alchemist Nicolas Flamel (Brotis Jodorowsky) and the evil Grindelwald himself. Although Paris in the movie seems like a Hollywood set of the city rather than a real city, it fits well with the Americanization of the FB universe and it reminded me of old Hollywood musicals from the forties and fifties.

The story has many twists and turns and many surprises, but what is carrying the movie is first and foremost the stunning special effects. Especially Newt’s London home with its Undetectable Extension Charm that makes it possible to house several of his magical creatures, is quite fantastic.
Furthermore, Eddie Redmayne as Newt and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald are equally amazing in the movie. I know that these days Depp’s image has been tainted, but luckily his unique talent as an actor is undeniable. As soon as you hear his voice in the magnificent opening & escape scene, you know that you are in good hands and that the movie is going to be good.
   As for Eddie Redmayne, he really grows on you. He makes Newt vulnerable and shy in such an endearing way that goes straight to the heart. I don’t think anyone but Redmayne would be able to portrait the socially awkward magizoologist.
   It is great seeing Nagini in her human form too in the freak show, gracefully played by Claudia Kim, and together with Zoë Kravitz as the rebellious Leta Lestrange, Newt’s first love and sister-in-law to be, the two of them outshine the two leading ladies from the first film, the sisters Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina (Katherine Waterston) Goldstein.

On the negative side, I have to mention that where in the first Fantastic Beast movie, I really liked Newt’s American friend Jacob Kowalski played by Dan Fogler, Fogler isn’t able to hold his ground in the new movie. Being cast alongside Depp, only Redmayne is able to step up his game and come across as interesting and strong as him.
   Also, I couldn’t help wondering how the lanky, pretty Grindelwald from the HP movies (played by Jamie Campbell Bower) grew up to be the short thickset Grindelwald of Fantastic Beasts, but I was okay with it due to Johnny Depp’s superb acting skills. I had a much harder time imagining that Dumbledore of HP, no matter if he’s portrayed by Richard Harris or Michael Gambon, should have resembled a lean, sly Jude Law in his younger days. I’m sorry, but Law just doesn’t have the strange whimsical authority that is characteristic for Dumbledore and I for one was not able to believe in him. The same goes for Fiona Glascott as Minerva McGonagall, whereas Joshua Shea as teenage-Newt was amazing.
   Finally, we never really learn that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were lovers when they were young, as this has been boiled down to a teenage blood pact in the movie in order to avoid saying out loud that Dumbledore is gay and once was on the side of what would become the Hitler of the wizarding world.

Other than that, I don’t have any objections as I was greatly entertained, and I look forward to the next Fantastic Beast movie that is set to open in theatres in 2020.

Three and a half out of four stars (it’s an improvement, isn’t it?): ***½

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