Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

There have been a few tries to create a James Bond franchise in a fantasy world. Van Helsing was pretty much dismissed in 2004, and John C. Reilly missed his chance when The Vampire’s Apprentice fizzled in 2009. But now we get The Crimes of Grindelwald as the second entry in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts film franchise, and it has plenty of action mayhem to distance itself from the Harry Potter movies – while returning the more lighthearted aspects sorely missing from the current incarnation of 007.

Crimes even begins with an epic action sequence, as Johnny Depp’s evil wizard Grindelwald escapes from the USA branch of the Ministry of Magic. The same character spent most of the first film disguised as Colin Farrell. It’s confusing, but the exposition is handled deftly enough. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is still a bumbling wizard who likes weird creatures and doesn’t want to take sides as the Ministry of Magic tries to stop Grindelwald from taking over the world and breaching a truce between wizards and normal people.

Even more exposition comes through Jude Law as the 1927 version of Albus Dumbledore, who’ll eventually become Harry Potter’s favorite professor. He’ll reveal that Grindelwald is still accompanied by a supposedly dead young wizard that’s still alive – although dead kids are still a big part of the Beasts universe.

The world of Beasts is also full of CGI, of course, but the 1920s setting manages to make things look both magical and interesting. There are lots of neat little tricks that help to emphasize the laziness of films like The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Rowling’s latest series even has a stellar cast of characters instead of action figures. That includes The Walking Dead’s Dan Fogler bringing back screwball comedy while stealing the show as Newt’s very muggle sidekick.

It also helps that Rowling’s own script for Crimes is charmingly amateurish while cramming in too much plot – including a big revelation for Potter fans. The film’s politics aren’t too appalling, either. The fascism is vintage, but it sounds more like Socialism when one of Grindelwald’s cohorts blithely comments on wizards taking over the world.

“We do not say such things out loud,” Grindelwald chides. “We want only freedom to be ourselves.” That’s a line that would’ve sounded good coming from Christopher Walken’s zocialist Bond villain in A View to a Kill.