That basic template barely scratches the surface of all that’s going on, with enough flashbacks, name-checks and key secondary players — including Ezra Miller as Credence, the mysterious linchpin of Grindelwald’s master plan; and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), Newt’s childhood love, now destined to wed his brother — adding layers of intrigue.
Depp gives the movie a villain of a greater magnitude, particularly in a closing sequence where he reveals what motivates him. While Dumbledore isn’t around that much, as played by Law he’s as enigmatic as ever, strengthening the link to Potter lore, especially for the rules-of-Quidditch-conversant who eat up every reference to it.
Rowling’s script periodically screeches to a halt to putty in those storylines, a tactic perhaps more conducive to novels than movies. Still, “Fantastic Beasts” doesn’t scrimp on the action, with enough battles, chases and imaginative production design and creatures — augmented by a particularly good James Newton Howard score — to occupy those Muggles who mostly just like to see stuff blow up.
Like the Harry Potter franchise, which built in ambition and intensity while piling on British talent as the central trio aged, “Fantastic Beasts” is settling in for a long ride, with three more movies announced through 2024.
It’s pretty clear that run will be profitable for Warner Bros. (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia). To the extent “The Crimes of Grindelwald” displays more franchise-driven efficiency than spark, it’s best viewed less as a stand-alone film than a carefully orchestrated step into the larger pre-Harry world.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” opens Nov. 16 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.