Written by Becca Johnson
After huge recasts in a lead role and lots of controversy regarding the author of the source material, we are finally getting the next instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise Friday, 8th April. Set long before the famous Harry Potter came to be, the series simultaneously focuses on Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who collects and cares for a range of magical beasts, and how Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald became sworn enemies. Join us as we refresh our minds on the first two instalments of the new Wizarding World story and prepare for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Back in 2016 we were introduced to Newt Scamander on screen for the first time, played perfectly well by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). We learn that he has a flair for caring for magical creatures and also for havoc, as he accidentally unleashes many beasts from his Mary Poppins-esque briefcase onto the streets of New York. Though some are much more dangerous than others, it is vital that he finds them and returns them to safety, as the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States) aren't happy with him - naturally. Helping Newt re-locate his creatures are demoted Auror Tina Goldstein, her legilimens sister Queenie and a non-magical human named Jacob Kowalski who provides plenty of comedy along the way.
However, danger is afoot. Much to the MACUSA's denial, it is not Scamander's beasts that are wreaking havoc on the city but an Obscurus, a parasite that develops inside magically gifted children when their abilities are suppressed. The team must not only work out who the Obscurus is, but must try to save them and help them nurture their power rather than being punished for it. They are not just up against the MACUSA but Mary Lou Barebone, a preacher who spreads information about wizards and witches being dangerous and Percival Graves, a dark wizard who wishes to use the Obscurus' magic to expose the community and frame Scamander for it. It is later revealed that Graves is in fact Gellert Grindelwald, a particularly evil wizard who has backwards views on muggles. The Obscurus turns out to be Mary Lou Barebone's son Credence who has somehow managed to survive much longer than most Obscurus' do.
The first instalment is nothing short of a fun, humorous blockbuster that balances its light and dark tones well. The movie stands out with it's great production design and a beautifully designed range of magical beasts that are easily the movies standout. Any time spent in Scamander's case of Niffler's, Occamy's and Bowtruckle's is worthwhile. Newt Scamander and Jacob Kowalski are a hilariously loveable duo, and seeing them traipse around New York getting up to mischief is a joy. Although it's light hearted, the stakes are incredibly high, and the script doesn't shy away from reminding you how dangerous its villains can be. The introduction of Grindelwald is memorable and the threat he poses is clear; it sets up for its sequels well. Redmayne is the standout yet all performances put forward are good, including those from Dan Fogler, Johnny Depp and Katherine Waterston. It's not without its issues as Fantastic Beasts suffers from occasionally shoddy CGI, uninteresting groundwork being laid and scenes that meander with little impact, but for the most part it works as a worthwhile revisit to the Wizarding World.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
Although arrested by MACUSA at the end of the first instalment, the beginning of 2018's sequel sees Grindelwald escape. Meanwhile, Scamander is asked by the Ministry of Magic to locate Credence Barebone but declines, until later asked by Albus Dumbledore who believes Credence is the lost long brother of Leta Lestrange, Scamander's Hogwarts best friend and now fiance of his brother. Scamander, Queenie and Jacob leave for Paris to locate Tina and hopefully Credence, yet they are of course not the only individuals looking for Credence. The gang are up against Yusuf Kama, who believes Credence is his half-brother that he made an Unbreakable Vow to kill. In Paris, Credence has joined forces with an animagus named Nagini (yes, Voldemort's snake but in human form) to try to find out his origins. Queenie, who is upset that she cannot marry her non-magic boyfriend Jacob and cannot find her sister Tina, ends up being manipulated into joining Grindelwald.
When the group reunite, they discover that Credence cannot be Leta's estranged brother as he in fact drowned as a baby, a death caused by Leta herself as she switched Credence with Corvus due to his uncontrollable crying. The gang follow a trail to a rally lead by Grindelwald, where he shows a vision of a global war and conjures a ring of blue fire that unfortunately kills Leta Lestrange. With the help of philosopher's stone creator Nicholas Flamel, the team extinguish the fire and attempt to fight against Grindelwald. In the last moments of the movie, we learn of a blood pact between Dumbledore and Grindelwald that prevents the pair from duelling each other, though Dumbledore is hopeful that it can be destroyed. Finally, Grindelwald promises Credence that he can tell him who he is; Aurelius Dumbledore, Albus' long lost brother.
Unfortunately, The Crimes of Grindelwald falls short of it's predecessor and has few redeeming qualities. It goes against original lore put forward by it's source material, the storyline is a jumbled mess with too much to focus on and many characters that we loved from the first movie become bland and unlikeable. The movies focus on Credence discovering where he comes from is not only uninteresting, but the outcome is a huge plot convenience The run-time often creeps along with poor pacing, and the beasts unfortunately don't get as much screen-time as they did previously meaning it loses much charm. It also has poor cinematography and editing, with a lot of choppy scenes. However, Jude Law is an excellent addition as Albus Dumbledore, playing the character well with suave, sophistication and fun. The elements of the storyline that were more focused such as character moments between Leta and Newt were enjoyable and added something worthwhile, though they often unfortunately get lost amongst the chaos. Killing off Leta was also a great shame, as she was the most intriguing character in this instalment.
Given the lack of cohesiveness with the first two instalments, it is interesting to see how The Secrets of Dumbledore will play out. Is there a new member of the Dumbledore family that we didn't learn about until now, or is Grindelwald bluffing? How will Mads Mikkelsen hold up as Gellert Grindelwald after replacing Johnny Depp, and will we still get a focus on the magical beasts? With Grindelwald's power rapidly growing, Dumbledore entrusts Newt Scamander and his friends with a mission leading to a clash with Grindelwald's army. See how this plays out from tomorrow, Friday 8th April.