Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is of course the latest film in what I guess is now dubbed the “Wizarding World” franchise, which comprises the Harry Potter films, the Fantastic Beasts films and I’m sure more spin-offs down the line. I grew up with the Harry Potter books and films, like most people my generation, and like most people by the time the last couple came out my interest had waned. I did always have a soft spot for the companion guidebook of monsters, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, credited to Newt Scamander (actually J.K. Rowling), which came out in 2001, the height of my Potter fandom. So, the idea of of a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie intrigued me, and I actually preferred the first film over a good chunk of the Harry Potter films.
The latest film has been dubbed The Crimes of Johnny Depp by some over allegations of abuse during his marriage with Amber Heard and his poor career choices in recent years. It’s a mixed bag for the most part, but it still had enough magic to win me over. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay for this and the previous Fantastic Beasts film, is not afraid to inject politics into her stories, and there are a number of real-life parallels in the Wizard world to then-contemporary political events. The later Potter books had clear parallels to the Bush-Blair years and the “war on terror.” Given that the Fantastic Beasts films are set in the late ’20s, the rise of fascism and specifically Hitler is here. Johnny Depp plays the fascistic dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who is stirring the wizarding world into hatred of the “other”, primarily muggles and “half-breeds.”
Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt Scamander, and it’s very much a film about him having to pick a side despite being apathetic about political and moral squabbles in the Wizarding world. Jude Law plays the younger Albus Dumbledore, who has a long history with Grindelwald and is probably the only wizard who can destroy him. Dumbledore’s sexuality is mentioned in the film, some have called out the way they handle it as “queerbaiting,” but given the millions upon millions of international dollars at stake, I thought it was done tastefully given the parameters they had to work with. Katherine Waterstone continues to do her best Louise Brooks impersonation as the auror Tina Goldstein. Ezra Miller also returns as the mysterious Credence Barebone.
When it came out in November, it was the biggest critical and box-office failure in the Wizarding World franchise’s history, but still made more money than most films would dream of. It’s certainly a cluttered and messy film, but it has enough of the “magic” and “wonder” you want from a fantasy film plus some good performances, I thought Depp was perfectly good as the ridiculous fascist wizard, and the final act with him is incredibly strong. It may seem more “by committee” then the first film, but it looks like a franchise that seemed to have logically ended with the eighth Harry Potter film has more heads then a hydra. Overall, I liked it, and I’m curious what direction the third film will go in: the darker, the better—and remember, the best Harry Potter film is the third one!
The release includes an extended cut, but annoyingly, it flashes text near the bottom of the image with “deleted scene” when a new scene is added. The only other instance of this travesty that I can find was with the extended cut of Stripes. It’s an absolutely bizarre choice from Warner Bros., it even has “Extended Cut” in the title sequence, which I can’t think of another film ever doing. The special features on the theatrical disc are the usual host of featurettes and the aforementioned deleted scenes separated from the film.