There was a simple time when a writer’s world would manifest itself only within books. It would be the sole prerogative of the reader to paint that into his/her imagination exactly the way they want it. This meant that everyone had their own version of the very same world unless the writer took the pain to illustrate his works. Films have become the illustrations for the literary worlds that inhabit within our minds. And more often than not, the big-screen adaptation adheres to that and becomes the new reality. We have, thus, become addicted to the “world-building” of writers. Those worlds, those characters do not belong to the writer anymore, but to the hordes of fans who have “lived” in them for years.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth, GRR Martin’s Westeros and J.K. Rowling’s Potterverse have each had their runs of full-length stories, and yet the excitement refuses to abate. Even after a lukewarm response for the prequel series of LOTR – The Hobbit Trilogy — there is yet another series in the works for Amazon Prime. Even for GoT which has yet to release its series finale in April 2019, a prequel series is in the works which would revolve around the early days of Ned Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
Fantastic Beasts started out as a brief mention as a course-book for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series but became more of a canon as fans compelled Rowling to release a full-fledged textbook detailing the travails of Newt Scamander. However, when the Production houses came knocking, the simple story of a lover of magical beasts, became a bloated attempt at re-booting a much larger Magic-verse with international intrigue. The Crimes of Grindelwald begins in the 1920s in a world which is now aware of the existence of a powerful obscurial called Credence. After the mishaps in London in the previous film, Credence has disappeared. To make matters worse, Grindelwald escapes from prison while he is being transported.
Word soon gets around that he is going to use the obscurial to wipe out Muggles to establish a Pureblood society that would rule both the magical and non-magical worlds. Well if that ain’t fascist, I don’t know what is. Meanwhile, a young (relatively) 40-something Dumbledore approaches Scamander to try and save Credence before Grindelwald got to him because he is the only person he knows who doesn’t seek power. Aided by Leta Lestrange, Scamander and his muggle sidekick Kowalski get off on an adventure to Paris where Credence was supposed to be. As more and more purebloods join Grindelwald’s ranks, Scamander headed towards one of the most difficult tasks of he would ever experience, facing a monster.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is far more political and far less fun than Fantastic Beasts. The story meanders about trying to delve into the dynamics of characters who are not crucial to the overall plot, such as the chemistry between Queenie and Kowalski. We also get to see a glimpse into Scamander’s past while he was at Hogwarts with Leta Lestrange. Both of them grew up as misfits. While Leta lashed out at her schoolmates as they picked on her, Scamander kept himself busy among his creatures. A pseudo-chemistry is also established between the two just to contrast it with the real love that Scamander felt towards Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston). Grindelwald, unfortunately, doesn’t feel as sinister as we expect villains in the Potterverse to be. Voldemort, Bellatrix, and even Dolores Umbridge made your skin crawl with revulsion. Grindelwald lacks that strong persona that characterized his successors.
Having said that, there are quite a few easter eggs and connections to our favourite Potterverse. It was especially nostalgic to watch the Great Hall with the floating candles once again. We also get to watch Dumbledore teach Defense Against the Dark Arts to his students, showing them how to turn a Boggart into a thing that they could laugh at. Reminds you of one of the most poignant scenes from the Prisoner of Azkaban with Professor Lupin. In Paris, in the house of one very famous Alchemist, you may also catch a glimpse of the famous Sorcerer’s stone in his cupboard. Also, while Leta tells her story about her journey to America with her little half-brother Corvus Lestrange, she talks about their escape from a sinking ship. If you calculate the year by her age at that time, it would have to be somewhere around the 1910s. What was the most famous ship disaster around that period ? You guessed it. She was on the HMS Titanic which was sailing from London to New York!
Redmayne as Scamander is flawless as the meek, magic-animal lover. Jude Law is charming as Dumbledore, and is probably one of the only other interesting characters who we would like to see more of. Depp as Grindelwald is just, plain underwhelming. Needless to say, the Fantastic Beasts series has stretched the Potterverse too far for its own good, and we are getting tired trying to find something to love in it. I will probably just binge-watch the Potter-series for the umpteenth time, and wait for the moment when Dumbledore wins the much-touted, epic battle against Grindelwald.