I loved the first Fantastic Beasts film. It had wonder, imagination and humor as well as a deft touch with complex issues. I adored Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander. His acting was quirky and brilliant. Well before the sequel was out, I was already excited to see it, hoping for more of the characters I’d fallen in love with in the first. I was especially loving the idea of Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore. So when the film came out, I was so ready to see it. It does have the all the beautiful graphics and creatures from the original with some new beasts for us to enjoy. It carries the story forward from the first movie but this complex story is far darker with more machinations and secrets.
In this film, Newt is back home in Britain, having been banned from travel to other countries due to his escapades in New York. His brother, Theseus (Callum Turner) attempts to regain his access but by having him join the ministry to help locate Credence (Ezra Miller). He learns that Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has managed to escape and the ministry fears that Credence will be a danger, especially if Grindelwald gets his hands on him. Newt refuses and is warned by his brother that he is being watched. We also get to meet Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) who is engaged to Theseus and is likely Newt’s lost love, mentioned in the first film.
Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) asks Newt to look for Credence, to keep him safe but Newt hesitates, stating he doesn’t want to take sides. Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), his girlfriend show up at Newt’s. Queenie has enchanted Jacob because he doesn’t want to marry due to the restrictions on her being with a Muggle. Queenie leaves to find her sister, Tina (Katherine Waterston), who Newt hasn’t stopped thinking about. He and Jacob head off to search for the women. While they do, the ministry continues to try and find Grindelwald while Grindelwald has gone to Paris to search out Credence and enact his vision, that will raise purebloods to rule over all non-magical beings. In Newt’s search, he finds love and loyalties tested as lines are drawn and friendships divided.
Directed by David Yates and written by J.K.Rowling herself, this film has some engaging elements and performances that are worth seeing. There are many great elements. Part of what I liked about the first film was the great designs and graphics surrounding the beasts and Newt’s pocket universe for his creatures. Once again, that is one of the best aspects as we get to see glimpses of more beasts, ever more fantastic, including a cat like creature called a Zouwu from China, complete with purrs and cat behaviour, that has escaped a magical circus. We also meet a giant snake, Nagini (Claudia Kim in human form), a woman cursed to become a snake each night until eventually she won’t be able to return to human form. Each of these plays a part in the film, helping the characters and having a key role in the story itself, especially Newt’s Niffler. The movie wouldn’t be Fantastic Beasts without these fantastic creatures and the design team has done a fantastic job of keeping them magical and realistic in form.
Some parts of the complex plot work for me. Newt and his awkward relationship with his brother makes a grand transformation by the end of the movie. We learn more about Leta and Newt as well as Dumbledore and Grindelwald, secrets do emerge, including Leta’s past and her struggle with darkness. This story is much darker than the first but also touches upon how easy it is for a messianic figure to persuade others to follow him, playing on their fears and beliefs. One of the aspects I liked is that Grindelwald is a zealot. He believes his is the best course for the world, to prevent war and death. The story is three dimensional, yet leading you to see the comparison with the Nazi’s and with the current climate in America. These details make for a rich story with sacrifices and loss.
The acting and the characters are what kept me engaged the most. Eddie Redmayne is as good as the first film, portraying Newt as awkward but knowledgeable, capably showing how gentle but strong a magician Newt is as he cares for all creatures. His creatures are the key but it is not solely his performance that brings the story to life. Dan Fogler is compelling as Jacob, less amusing but with more depth. Zoe Kravitz is beautifully emotional as Leta LeStrange, her story interwoven with the larger tapestry, and her depth of emotion rich and engaging. I found Alison Sudol playing Queenie unexpectedly breakout of your expectations while Katherine Waterston was as fantastic as in the first film in the series. Johnny Depp and Jude Law were both magnetic in their performances, Depp believable as a man who can persuade others to follow him and Jude Law’s emotional nuance perfect for his role.
Where the film goes wrong for me, is in a couple aspects. The opening sequence with Grindelwald’s escape is striking but visually dark, with lightning bolts that light up the screen. It makes it difficult to see the screen and what’s really happening. It also could be hard for any with strobe issues to watch. Other than this scene, most of the other visuals are stunning, compelling and this just does not fit with the rest of the film.
The other problem is that the movie has too many moving pieces. There are too many plot elements told from too many point of view characters. I like aspects of the story but it is difficult to follow all the different parts. It also seems far more set up for the next movie than a complete story in its own. The first movie managed to have this but this film seemed incomplete at the end. There are several hidden motives and truths in the film as well. While I don’t like a film that is predictable, there was one plot point that came out of nowhere for me, with no real lead up or hints. Plus there were parts of the plot that were predictable, including the ending. With so much going on, it felt like the movie lacked as solid a focus as the original and personally, had way too few fantastic beasts. We were given a wider story lens at the sacrifice of what made the first movie so magical and entertaining.
While I think fans will still enjoy this movie, especially with the creatures and the design of the magic, it is just a touch less enjoyable than the first “Fantastic Beasts”. A chunk of the plot could have been trimmed down and if it had been better focused on one or two characters, it would have held together better. Overall, the performances are worth it, with Jude Law, Eddie Redmayne and Zoe Kravitz having the best performances for me this time around. If you are a Harry Potter fan, the film is full of references to the books and allusions to other characters so I would recommend it. It just didn’t have quite the same heart as “Fantastic Beasts”.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Nifflers.