- David Yates
- Run Time
- 2 hours and 14 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Although there are no more Harry Potter books and movies to enchant her fans, J. K. Rowling has not abandoned the Wizard World. In the second of the five-part Fantastic Beast films, written by Rowling herself, she and director David Yates transport us to a time well before Harry and his friends studied at Hogwarts. (We are, however, given a brief glimpse of them in a scene of the future.)
It is 1927, and in New York magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has prevailed temporarily over the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) who wants to conquer and rule both the Wizard and the Muggle Worlds. In the thrilling prologue Newt’s victory lasts but a few months. Gellert manages to pull off a dramatic escape in a coach pulled by black dragon-like creatures.
Newt, still forbidden by the American Ministry of Magic to transport his fantastic beasts, finds himself in London where his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) works with Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), Theseus’ fiancée. This sets up the possibility of sibling rivalry when flashbacks show us that Let and Newt were sweethearts during their student days.
Newt’s former professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) invites him to track down a disturbed wizard named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald can find and use him in his plan to dominate the world. You might recall from the first film that that disturbed young wizard wreaked a great deal of destruction in Manhattan. No wonder our villain plans to manipulate him to join his cause. On a lighter note, Newt’s old Muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogel) also arrives in London with Roaring Twenties flapper Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Soon the action shifts to Paris, where Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterson) joins in the search for Barebone. The latter is part of a freak circus where his only friend is the shape shifter Nagini (Claudia Kim), who can turn herself into a giant serpent. (Potter fans will know all about her.) Also entering the story are bounty hunter Grimmson (Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson) and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a mysterious French-Senegalese dandy. There thus are a lot of characters to keep track of (including some of Grindelwald’s minions and the elderly alchemist Nicolas Flammel, mentioned often in the first Harry Potter book as creator of the Philosopher’s Stone), adding to my difficulty in understanding what is going on at times. There is humor—much of this supplied by Jacob, and of course beasts such as the small green mantis like Pickett traveling with Newt in his jacket pocket, and the cute ducklike Niffler, who drawn to shiny objects, moves the story along when it steals an important item.
Some have complained about the sparsity of plot in the film. We see little of the villain’s “crimes” of the title, a more accurate title perhaps being “The Pursuit of Grindelwald” or “The Search for Credence Barebone.” However, such critics forget that Rowling is still setting up her world and characters—five films are a long haul. We should see this as a character development film, especially Newt’s, the scope of his vision widening considerably in the second film. Throughout the first his focus was on recovering the delightful menagerie of fantastic beasts that escaped from his wondrous suitcase. Now the purpose of his trip to London is to get the Ministry of Magic to over-rule their American counterpart’s travel ban against his beasts. Meeting up with his former professor Albus Dumbledore, he is told that Grindelwald is gathering together pureblooded wizards to take over the world “The time’s coming, Newt… when you’re going to have to pick a side.” Newt replies, “No, I don’t do sides.” If you are a Star Wars fan, you might think immediately of Hans Solo, who also did not want to get involved in a similar fight against tyranny. Like Solo, Newt does join in the fight as he begins to realize what a threat Grindelwald is to the freedom of humans and wizards. My favorite quote in the film is related to Christ’s rejection of Satan’s offer of power (Luke 4:5-8), Dumbledore, saying, ”Do you know why I admire you, Newt? You do not seek power. You simply ask, “Is a thing… right?”
The most chilling part of the film, because it so similar to the speeches emanating in the 1930s from Berlin and Nuremberg, and today from Washington and capitals in Italy and eastern Europe, is the sequence in which the golden-tongue Grindelwald addresses the gathering of pureblood wizards. “My brothers… my sisters. The clock is ticking faster. My dream, we who live, for truth, for love. The moment has come, to take our rightful place… in the world, where we wizards… are free. Join me… or die.” He justifies a war against non-wizards as necessary for their own survival, clearly rejecting Dumbledore’s view that the two worlds can co-exist side by side. Clearly author Rowling has been listening to the strident voices of the rising rightwing demagogues peddling their fearful gospel of a “clash between civilizations.”
As Grindelwald speaks against allowing the Muggles to continue in their freedom scenes of future warfare, capped by the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb, flash onto the screen, giving credence to his diatribe. A good example of a demagogue using fear to win a following. He also seeks to win over Queenie by assuring her he means her no harm, concluding with “I wish you were working with me now. Towards a world where we wizards are free to live openly, and to love freely.” Thus, he poses as a champion of freedom.
Twice Newt asks Dumbledore asks why he himself does not pursue Grindelwald, and both times the professor declines to explain himself. The eventual revelation* of why Dumbledore refuses to go after Grindelwald himself will probably disturb Fundamentalist Christians, already opposed to the Harry Potter films because they believe Rowling is promoting sorcery and witchcraft. She apparently thinks that the fans of her earlier books are grown up enough now to accept a gay authority figure as complex as this marvelous hero. The ever-darkening series is not for children, but for fantasy lovers old enough to reflect upon current events, this is a must-see film. The special effects are truly spectacular, but the ideas and values underneath them and the plot make this new series a wonderful gift to young and old alike.
*To see an almost 16-minute-long video of Morgan Ross explaining the dark relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald based on Rowling’s novels, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV905Hxw_D0
This review will be in the December issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.