Setting out to make a spin-off series to something as beloved as the Harry Potter franchise is. usually, either real brave, or really stupid.
While the first film was a good first step into this fresh chapter of the Wizarding World, introducing us to a likeable new lead character, as well as interesting support characters and building background intrigue of an as yet unexplored dark period of Wizarding history.
So, how does this follow-up measure up against its high-pedigreed history?
Since we last saw him, Newt Scamander has been banned from international travel by the Ministry of Magic, however, he is dragged unwillingly into the unfolding global battle against Dark Wizard Grindlewald.
Well, this film pissed in a lot of people’s porridge didn’t it?
There isn’t much I can really say about the contentious events in this film without giving out spoilers, which is against my principles as a critic, so I will skirt around these issues while addressing them as much as possible.
Whereas this film does not hit the dizzy heights of the main HP series, it is still fun while it lasts, and a lot of fun in parts when it embraces its status as a magical fantasy, the opening scene standing out in particular, as well as the climactic battle, all look visually stunning as it embraces the past’s visual grandeur, while forging its own path.
Its biggest issue is it can’t help but feel like the ‘middle child’ of its series, with it being the second of a planned five-film series, it can’t really start going anywhere interesting without getting ahead of itself narrative-wise, it spins its wheels through its two-and-a-half hour run-time, picking up narrative points and either dropping them or hastily resolving them, with little feeling of closure.
It is also packed to the gills with exposition, there’s a particular scene just before the films climax, where not one but TWO characters vomits up their entire family backstory, complete with flashback scenes, which grinds the narrative to a screeching halt.
The cast is extremely varied and there are peaks and troughs in the performances, the peaks laying in the lead, Eddie Redmayne, a reliable actor if ever there was one, Jude Law, who slips well into the role of Albus Dumbledore, and, surprisingly enough for me, Johnny Depp as the titular series ‘big bad’ Grindlewald.
I was a voice in the group decrying the casting of Depp as Grindlewald. Not only because of his, let’s charitably say, less than stellar, personal record as of late, in fact that is far down the list as to why I was against his casting. The main reasons lie in the fact that Johnny Depp can only ever play Johnny Depp and given how we’ve already seen Grindlewald’s appearance in the main series, Depp bares no resemblance to what we’d seen. But, in the end I was prepared to be proven wrong, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t surprise me.
That’s not to say I think I was completely wrong, he is still playing off his typical ‘Johnny Depp’ character type, he’s just simply inverted it from being a lovable anti-hero, to a cold, remorseless villain, and it works. I would like to see more depth from him in the sequel, but its nice that he’s actually playing a character, rather than just being himself in another wacky costume.
The basis of most of the backlash against the film surrounded the continuity rewriting, and I could write about that, but it would derail the reviews focus, so I’m not going to go into it in too much detail, but suffice to say that if you’re invested in the series, then certain events, and appearances might take you out of the film a bit, but if you’re a relative newcomer, chances are you won’t notice anything.
In conclusion, while the film is uninspired and meandering, it’s nice to be back into this familiar universe, and there are some eye-catching moments that will please long-term Potter fans, while infuriating them in later scenes. It does feel like the series could do with a serious shot in the arm in future instalments, as this feels like a slight miss-step
in the series, at only its second hurdle, which gives me the feeling the Rowling could maybe use some screenwriting help. In brief summary, a fun time while it happens, but inconsequential to the longer series narrative.