[Warning: Spoilers below.]
Sometimes casting makes a big difference. After the first film in this series, which I actually enjoyed a great deal , there were some complaints that Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander wasn’t very charismatic, so what does this film do? Make sure that Newt is following orders from an Albus Dumbledore played by Jude Law. Are you concerned that Johnny Depp is too unlikable an actor to play a charismatic character? That’s no problem, have him play a thoroughly unlikable character. Concerned that a movie dealing with wizarding warfare isn’t going to have the sort of beasts that one needs to live up to its title? We have some new beasts to meet along with some old ones? Miss Hogwarts? Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing it several times. Do you think that the ending of the first movie was too convenient with its love stories? Don’t worry, there are some misunderstandings and other events that keep the obvious couples from joining together. In short, this movie manages to do a great job at handling the areas where a viewer might be concerned and makes a compelling and complicated story that serves both as an effective standalone movie and also a worthy sequel and prelude to more action ahead.
In many ways, this movie does a good job at both setting up the magical world further in unexpected areas–most of the film takes place in France–and in building upon what we already know in strange and unexpected ways. This film has some dramatic surprises. We see Leela Lestrange engaged to Theseus Scamander, who doesn’t show himself as a loving brother, but clearly Leela is still in love with Newt. Of course, this being an unhappy love triangle, we know it will end unhappily, and it does, albeit somewhat unexpectedly. We know that Grindelwald will escape from his captivity, and he does in dramatic fashion at the beginning of the movie. Throughout much of the film there is clearly the aim of bringing the original four characters together, and then the movie leaves Newt free to pursue his relationship from the first movie, assuming the auror boyfriend gets the heave-ho, but Queenie joins Grindelwald after her mind-reading abilities and her enchantment in order to marry her No-Mag boyfriend goes awry. There is a lot of betrayal here, as people are forced to confront the monster inside.
Perhaps the most odd aspect of this movie is the title. It is not as if Grindelwald is free of crimes–he commits quite a few here, but the movie tends to show his influence as more malign and more in seeking to encourage others to commit crimes. The biggest crime one can see from him is a quality he shares with Lord Voldemort, and that is the way that his behavior foments disorder and treachery between those who should be connected. Even truth is a weapon in his hands, as when he shows his audience the horrors of World War II before threatening to destroy Paris himself, which is only narrowly averted. Throughout the film we see characters who we would think of as evil end up acting surprisingly good, and vice versa, and by the end, everyone has chosen a side, even if it is an unusual side, and even if the members of what appears like a very early version of Dumbledore’s Army at the end of the movie is not the sort of picture we would imagine. Despite a very dramatic and puzzling last-minute twist, this movie makes it clear where the next volume will go, as it presents two obvious puzzles that need to be solved–how is Dumbledore going to break the blood oath that prevents he and Grindelwald from directly opposing each other, and what is the truth about Credence’s background, and how does it match the series’ canon and chronology? At any rate, this movie gives us enough compelling material to look forward to finding out the answers to these and no doubt other questions.
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