Warner Bros. Pictures' Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald—the second of five original adventures in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World—is premiering in theaters nationwide Friday.
At the end of the first movie, 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the dark and powerful wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA, thanks to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Grindelwald escaped custody, of course, and now he's using his followers to ensure pure-blood wizards will one day rule over all non-magical beings. To stop him, Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) turns to Newt, a former pupil.
The ensemble cast includes Isaura Barbé-Brown as Laurena Kama, Poppy Corby-Tuech as Vinda Rosier, Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, Brotis Jodorowsky as Nicolas Flamel, Cornell John as Arnold Guzman, Claudia Kim as Nagini, Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, Ezra Miller as Credence barebone, Ólafur Darri Òlafsson as Skender, Derek Riddell as Torquil Travers, Wolf Roth as Spielman, David Sakurai as Krall, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Grimmson, Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein, Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander, Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein, Jessica Williams as Lally Hicks and Victoria Yeates as Bunty. The film reunited director David Yates with Rowling a fifth time.
David Heyman, Steve Kloves and Lionel Wigram served as producers on the darker fantasy film, while Neil Blair, Danny Cohen, Tim Lewis and Rick Senat served as executive producers. With a runtime of 134 minutes, the movie is rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.
Here's what critics are saying about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:
• "A huge step up" from its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald "has better and at times galvanizing special effects, a darker tone and a high-stakes battle between good and evil," The Hollywood Reporter's Caryn James writes. "Best of all, its characters are more vibrantly drawn, and tangled in relationships that range from delightful to lethal." However, Depp "grandstands in one more gimmicky, costume-driven performance," which "grew tiresome many movies ago." But as "one secret is revealed" in the film, James writes, "other mysteries pile up. Credence discovers the truth about his lineage, a revelation that may make you think, 'Huh? They are from the same family?' But this new, improved sequel suggests that even when Rowling seems to have gone astray, before long she knows just what she's doing."
• "Darker and bolder," Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald "intertwines different eras of the Potter mythology and delivers a more relevant cinematic villain than that malevolent snake face, Voldemort," USA Today's Brian Truitt writes. "Old-school Potterheads will rejoice, though fans of the charmingly quirky group of heroes from the first Beasts may lament their do-gooders getting lost in a growing magical landscape." Yates is "a master of juggling the big, action-packed set pieces with gripping character moments," Truitt adds, imbuing "a childlike wonder with critters that include an underwater seaweed dragon called a Kelpie and the skeletal, flying horse-like Thestrals who take part in Grindelwald's awesome airborne jailbreak."
• "Newt remains one of the most distinctive heroes in blockbuster cinema, a quiet introvert who approaches every character and every beast with love and understanding and no small amount of awkwardness," The Wrap's William Bibbiani writes. Redmayne has "a firmer grasp on what makes Newt work, and the way he loosens up and gets more comfortable when he's in his element. He tames giant, terrifying monsters like they were ornery housecats, and extends his hand to even the most malevolent wizards, even though he can barely talk to his friends."
• A "much-improved sequel," Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald "wisely leaves the States for a more otherworldly London and Paris, all the while discovering the heart and drive of this new series," The New York Post's Johnny Oleksinski writes. Like its predecessor, the sequel "doesn't have many innocent moments of discovery the Harry Potter movies were known for: no cute kids figuring out how to levitate a feather or ride a broom." But, it does finally "have a proper villain and a purpose for this series of—gulp—five eventual movies."
• "Grindelwald's story, set in 1927, may be all about nifflers and wizards, but it's also very much a parable of the world today. Grindelwald is a demagogue. He holds rallies. He incites his followers to violence by demonizing the other. His power comes not from a wand, but from dividing people against one another. Sound familiar? It should," The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan writes. Becaause in The Crimes of Grindelwald, "there's another He Who Shall Not Be Named, whose shadow looms large over everything, and I ain't talking about Voldemort."
• "As is often the case in a Rowling production, evil is ascendant, seeping through both human and magic realms like poison gas, The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes. "The movie is chockablock with stuff: titular creatures (if not nearly enough), attractive people, scampering extras, eye-catching locations, tragic flashbacks, teary confessions and largely bloodless, spectacular violence. It's an embarrassment of riches, and it's suffocating." But the darkness "makes a startling contrast to the first movie," and it's a welcome one. The movie is "scattered with minor pleasures, mostly ornamental," but it's best when the story "shifts to Hogwarts," Dargis explains, "where Dumbledore, fond memories and the promise of better stories await."
• "Nearly every moment is visually ravishing—from the weird, wondrous creatures and sumptuous costumes to the fog-banked spires and cobblestones of 1920s London and Paris, all strewn with the dazzling fairy dust of J.K. Rowling's singular imagination," Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt writes. "If only she could point her wand at a fantastic plot and where to find it." Law "brings a lovely, twinkling kindness" to a role previously played by two older actors in the Harry Potter film series, and Yates "hurtles as well as he can through the entwined storylines, base-jumping gamely from scene to scene." But it's production designer Stuart Craig and costumer Colleen Atwood who make Rowling's story come alive onscreen, Greenblatt says, "filling every frame with their own lush, mood-building brand of enchantment."
• "As a protagonist, Newt has always had a big robe to fill, with his good-natured nerdery no easy replacement for Harry Potter's more universal adolescent sturm und drang," Variety's Andrew Barker writes. "The best of the bunch, once again, is the illicit muggle-mage coupling of Jacob and Queenie." For all of the film's "plot twists, loud noises, and multihued magical nebulae," Barker says, "rarely is there much tension, or sense of adventure, or any real longing..."
• "An excruciating bore just barely enlivened by stray glimpses of Hogwarts, a flicker of gay romance and a menagerie of computer-generated creepy-crawlies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is enough to make J.K. Rowling fans weep in frustration, provided they can even keep their eyes open," The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang writes. A "faint reference to a gay relationship" deserves more screen time. "Should the Dumbledore-Grindelwald relationship ever make its way fully out of the narrative closet, the next three Fantastic Beasts movies might do well to explore that resonant subtext," he writes. "With any luck, they might even be good."
• "Even as a Harry Potter fan, I can't say I wanted to spend more time in this movie. Crimes of Grindelwald is long on puzzles, but short on reasons to care about solving them," Mashable's Angie Han writes, noting that Kravitz is "effortlessly compelling" as Leta and her relationship with Newt "seems complex enough to serve as the emotional spine of Crimes as Grindelwald," even if it's treated as a subplot. "While it is possible, if you squint very hard, to make out some of the deeper themes at play here—like the pull of family, the weight of regret, and the dark allure of fear—the real driving force behind Crimes of Grindelwald seems to be a burning desire to set up a sequel," she adds. "If only it had gone to the trouble of making me want to see one."