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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review : Hey Roblox, this is world-building!


If there’s one thing J.K. Rowling knows how to do, it’s backstory.

When you think about it, a lot of the Harry Potter series was Harry, Hermione and Ron running around trying to figure out what happened before they got on that first train to Hogwarts (well, Hermione did most of the figuring out, let’s be honest) so they could defeat the present threat and prepare for the future.

Prequels are basically filling in the backstory blanks, but there’s an issue with this from a viewer’s perspective – when we know how things turn out, the journey to get there becomes far less interesting. Prequels often then become either fanservice, redundant, or the details added to expand the story end up taking all the magic away (midichlorians anyone?).

J.K. Rowling’s solution to this? MORE backstory. Backstory we didn’t even know we needed. Yes we know how it ends with Dumbledore and Grindelwald. But it turns out there’s a lot more to it. And, perhaps, more characters to care about. Also no Trade Federation which is a bonus.

How much you enjoy this film will depend on how much you respond to the new characters and to the new storythreads. Because there’s a lot of them. And it can be a bit overwhelming at times. So intricately plotted, every character has an essential place in the narrative, which means every scene with a character is an ‘important’ one, rising music and all. Let’s just say there’s no scenes of characters sitting around a dorm room eating chocolates and making animal noises, although there is a nice moment for Newt (Eddie Redmayne) at home riding a water beast, which also handily positions him as much more capable than he comes across in the first film.

As someone who thought the first “Beasts” entry rather dull – all set-up and no pay off – and not sure how they were going to sustain another four films, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” certainly starts paying off. The number of major characters doubles, and yet they are all so richly drawn and well-cast, overall, I was gripped, if a little mentally exhausted. Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange was particularly affecting given the amount of scenes she’s actually in, and even less present, but also impactful, Claudia Kim as Nagini. The addition of Leta and Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), adds a depth to Newt’s character that clicks immediately, as does Newt’s relationship with Dumbledore, played to perfection by Jude Law – even if every scene that takes place at Hogwarts makes you wish much more of the film was set there.

The other three main characters from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), mind reader Queenie (Alison Sudol) , and No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler), are still present and charming, but this is a darker film, in colour and in content. Director David Yates knows this universe, and it shows. The film’s production, performances and special effects are flawless.

There’s some surprising turns in this film that I won’t spoil, but found to be very narratively satisfying. It may be too much story for some, who just want a coherent two-hour film with a start, middle and end, but it seems like that’s just not the way films work anymore, at least, blockbuster films. Lucky for me I’m a sucker for backstory.

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