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'Fantastic Beasts' Review: We'll take any excuse to go back to the Wizarding World

There are very few things that lure the inner child out of me, but John Williams’ melodic theme superimposed over a gliding aerial shot of the gorgeous, majestic Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardrywell, that instantly reverts me fifteen years and compels a giddy feeling to burst through my chest like a Patronus from a wand’s tip.

We’re called Potterheads, and we’re generally a very proud bunch. When we aren’t in the middle of re-reading the books for the fiftieth time, we never turn down an opportunity to watch the films – even “Goblet of Fire”, despite the fact that it is, hands down, the worst.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was released in 2016, and though it was set in 1926 New York and didn’t star Harry Potter or his contemporaries, we still reveled in the opportunity to return to the wizarding world. Now, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is back with “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, a content-heavy sequel that pushes character history and development but doesn’t feel contrived or like it’s pandering to its audience.

The initial and biggest problem the film has is the cumbersome untying of plot points it inherited from its predecessor: That guy isn’t dead? That other guy didn’t lose his memory? Yeah, it feels clunky and temporarily stifles the magical flow that characterizes these films. But once the clerical work is out of the way and the groundwork has been laid, the story quickly finds its groove.

In fact, I’d argue it’s a more confident film than the first, moving assuredly into its place in the Potter universe. Having destroyed nearly all of New York, Newt is put on country arrest, forced to stay in England by the Department of Ministry. But after the escape of the dark wizard and bleach proponent, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), Newt is the only one Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) can rely on to track the convict and thwart his plans to dominate the muggle world.

Familiar faces from the previous film are drawn back into the fold, but the film really shines in its willingness to take on new characters and develop fresh histories for the franchise. Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) is of particular interest, a reformed Slytherin engaged to Newt’s debonair Auror brother. Her appearance allows the film to investigate Newt’s time as a student at Hogwarts and to highlight the complicated relationship various pure-bred wizarding families have with one another.

And, of course, the beasts. They are not only as fantastic this time around, but they aid in the film’s development instead of dictating it. Director David Yates helmed the last four films in the Harry Potter franchise as well as “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. He, more than anyone else, knows how to tell these stories with a style and flair that many have come to associate with the brand, and the numerous creatures on screen would not be nearly as memorable under anyone else’s tutelage.

It is an in-between film that doesn’t tie up nicely or even remotely resolve all of the storylines, and you have a very limited knowledge of the world created by J.K. Rowling, then I can’t say this is a film that will resonate with you beyond its powerful CGI effects and stabs at passing humor. There are dynamics and relationships that require prior knowledge, not to mention the vast lexicon of wizarding terms that aren’t always spelled out for the audience. But for the rest of us, “Crimes of Grindelwald” is a solid chapter that leaves us eager for the next.