Not only do blockbuster franchises have sequels, prequels and reboots, but luckily for the colossal fandom, the latest emerging trend, is the extended universe or spin-off. Marvel, DC and Star Wars have all ventured into continued iterations of their expansive milieu, and now comes the second instalment in JK Rowling’s evolution of Harry Potter’s Wizarding World.
After the events of the first Fantastic Beasts in 2016, proceedings inevitably take not only a much darker, but also far more complex turn. It’s even more elaborate, magical, ambitious and visually dazzling than its predecessor. Rowling’s imagination is as boundless as ever, with a whole bundle of new characters, intersecting plotlines and idiosyncratic creatures.
This descent into the aforementioned far darker territory, is thankfully due to the much bigger role taken by Johnny Depp, returning as the grandiose arch antagonist of the title, Gellert Grindelwald. Depp is absolutely terrific - oozing relentless malevolence, but still retaining this incredibly persuasive capacity to manipulate. Still sporting a shock of blonde hair and haunting eyes that change colour, the film opens in spectacular style, as he engineers a high-octane escape from prison, then plans to eradicate the world of ‘No-Maj’s’ (muggle, or ‘non-magical’ souls)…
Meanwhile, it’s up to gifted but awkward wizard Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (once again a rather bumbling, one-note performance) to stop him. He believes the key may be in ascertaining the whereabouts of troubled orphan Credence (a very empathetic Ezra Miller) who’s desperate to discover the truth about his identity…Narratively, this chapter strikes the perfect balance between originality and nostalgia. It feels simultaneously utterly fresh, with entirely new echelons of danger, and a tone which hits doomily dramatic heights at times. But also, there are extremely clever references strewn throughout to the beloved, tangibly familiar Potter canon. These include the much-anticipated return to Hogwarts – during which a gleefully exciting portion of John Williams’s signature theme is reprised. As well as a wonderous new score, prolific composer James Newton-Howard subtly intertwines these classic motifs throughout (listen as the 3D Warner Bros. logo floats towards you!)
There’s a young Dumbledore, portrayed by Jude Law – unlikely casting, but he does capture an enigmatic, mercurial quality.
The swirling, panoramic cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, immerse the viewer firmly into the action. Stuart Craig’s richly detailed production design – statues move, champagne pops, several artefacts from previous films appear – and Colleen Atwood’s sumptuous costumes, only add to the magic.
Giving nothing away, the final scene contains an unbelievably audacious revelation – which sets up tantalisingly for what’s to come next!...
Rating: * * * *