Hollywood’s increased obsession with universes, miniseries and franchises has pretty much guaranteed that anything and everything can get a sequel.
But often, studios find themselves milking an intellectual property for all its worth, stretching a story beyond its means at the expense of each chapter.
Such is the case with “Fantastic Beasts,” a burgeoning series of films spun off from the iconic Harry Potter movies.
The second entry, “The Crimes of Grindlewald,” debuted Thursday evening and will likely be a box office success and rewarding fan service for Potter-maniacs.
Casual viewers, on the other hand, may be left confused as to the film’s meaning as “The Crimes of Grindlewald” is littered with Easter eggs and ultimately serves as an extended prologue for three movies to come.
Expert in unique creatures Newt Scamander is tasked with tracking down a dark magic Obscurus before the villainous Grindlewald can use it to bring about a war between magical and non-magical people.
Set primarily in Paris during the late 1920s, “Grindlewald” continues the journey set on by “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” while pushing things ever closer to the beginnings of Harry Potter’s cinematic journey.
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt and brings heart to an otherwise plot-propelling character.
His performance is overshadowed, however, by a dynamic and charismatic turn from Academy Award nominee Jude Law as a young version of Harry Potter’s mentor Albus Dumbledore. Law wins every scene he’s in despite limited screen time and should prove to be one of the series’ pinnacles by the end of the five-movie plan.
Casting Johnny Depp as the evil Grindlewald appears to be a false step at first glance, given his propensity for mustache twirling performances and recent personal life troubles.
But in the role, Depp as Grindlewald doesn’t feel out of place as the veteran character actor gives his baddie a level of depth unusual to his work in similar films and plausible moral justification for Grindlewald’s actions.
It’s meant as the highest possible compliment to say that Depp fits in perfectly within this universe as a less demonstrative, more driven character.
The film’s true stars, however, are the titular beasts themselves, an assortment of unique creatures expertly designed and animated with a true cinematic and expository purpose rather than cuteness and comic relief.
Redmayne’s Newt has a genuine connection with these creatures that feels plausible in this world. It also helps that the gold-crazy Nibblers and lock-picking Bowtruckles are a lot of fun to watch.
Tonally, “Grindlewald” is significantly darker than the prior “Fantastic Beasts” entry and more on par with the fifth and sixth Harry Potter films, which makes sense as director David Yates took over the “Wizarding World” franchise with 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and has made every related film since.
If anything, “Grindlewald” is a return to the mature, conflicted grey of his prior work with the relatively bright first “Fantastic Beasts” being an exception rather than the rule.
“Grindlewald” isn’t an average movie anyone can decide to check out at the last minute.
There’s a high degree of difficulty for first-time, popcorn viewers that requires having seen at least the original “Fantastic Beasts” film and better than cursory knowledge of the Harry Potter story.
Yates and his team don’t wait around to catch viewers up or explain what’s happening.
Even moderate Potter fans — the ones who’ve read the books and seen all nine other movies, but don’t dress up in costume or get sorted into a Hogwarts House — will find themselves feeling more than a bit left out of the loop.
Yes, these beasts are fantastic and a joy to watch on the big screen. But ultimately, “The Crimes of Grindlewald” are betrayal of plot development…..
At least until the next film when everything will start to make more sense.