The Franchise Continues in Harry Potter Prequel ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Released in 2016, the J.K. Rowling scripted Harry Potter prequel, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” began a whole new saga for Harry Potter fans hungry for more stories of wizards, dark magic and woebegone muggles. Now, two years later, the first of many sequels hits the very big screens as “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Taking its time at first, the story builds to an epic set up for the sequels to come.

“Grindelwald” spends much of its two plus hours effecting a reunion of sorts of all the major characters initially introduced in the first film. First and foremost is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Newt is a “magizoologist” who carries a suitcase filled with any number of  “Fantastic Beasts.” At any time, they can escape and cause craziness or be worthy helpmates to the “Fantastic Beast” whisperer. In this movie, they mostly act for the good.

Newt has problems with his love life. Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) is the ambivalent former girlfriend now engaged to Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner). Newt’s true love is Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a disgraced Auror (law enforcement for wizards), who arrested him in the first film.

Other returning friends and foes are the star crossed lovers, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Tina’s sister Goldie (Alison Sudol).

The most important and long expected shining light on this sequel firmament is the introduction of the younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and a return to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Jude Law is excellent in this manifestation of a younger Dumbledore teaching Defense Wizardry at Hogwarts.

Dumbledore appears early on imploring Newt to take on an important quest that, according to Dumbledore, he is prevented from doing for mysterious reasons of his own. Part of that quest is for Newt to break the laws of wizardry and go to Paris. His charge is to find Credence (Ezra Miller), the troubled orphan from the first film, before he comes under the influence of muggle-hating, power-loving Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Introduced in the first film, Grindelwald is quite the smooth talker and on course to bring an army of disgruntled wizards to his side in his quest to conquer the world for wizards. For a reason not clear at first, Dumbledore won’t take a stand against him.

As this movie is just one chapter in this unfolding struggle against Grindelwald, it can be rightfully assumed that some storylines will be resolved while most won’t. And the film will end leaving viewers counting the days for the next installment. And in fact, by the end of this film, the combatants are in play and the fans are left breathlessly awaiting the next film.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” can be a challenging entry point for anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, and a worse one for those who paid only casual attention to the Harry Potter series. The film moves at a fast clip. And with all the wizardry politics, terms, and back-story, not to mention the chore of keeping all the fantastic beasts straight, it can be somewhat confusing.

But the main elements, the love and the hate, are always clear. Movies like this need a strong villain, and Johnny Depp provides just that.

With all of its lush beginning-to-end score by John Newton Howard as well the moody Edwardian period production design by Stuart Craig filmed in subdued colors by Philippe Rousselot, it’s familiar territory for director David Yates. Having done the first film, Yates was also the go-to director for the last installments of the Harry Potter series.

J.K. Rowling continues to expand on her world of Hogwarts, muggles and wizards, introducing new elements that are innovative and yet feel familiar to Potter fans. Someday they might make a movie about her.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” leads to an epic note that is both satisfying and wets the interest for more. When the whole series is in the can, this might be seen as the film where the real story truly takes off.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” opens Nov. 16 in theaters nationwide.