Casting a spell every bit as potent as the "Harry Potter" series at its best, "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" helps the prequel series take flight after the divisive and choppy first chapter.
After the tedious world-building of the original "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (2016), the second entry in a planned five-film series shines in ways the previous movie only hinted at. There is plenty of payoff in chapter two, as well as deepening mysteries and twists within twists that point to even more exciting things ahead for the franchise.
J.K. Rowling -- oddly solely credited with both the characters and the screenplay -- shows off some of her best writing in any medium to date, crafting and delving into robust characters with fascinating depth and background.
Succeeding in ways the first movie disappointed, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" trots out a treasure trove of lore and whimsy for fans of the franchise to devour. Start with a cadre of fascinating witched and wizards: Eccentric lead Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), the cold, calculating pureblood wizard supremacist, Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and the conflicted conjurer, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Equally as charming is the robust roster of fantastic beasts, nearly all exquisitely rendered by impeccable CGI. A Chinese parade-style cat-dragon, a snarky, thieving platypus-like puffball, a walking plantlike stick figure and a rambunctious sea creature are a few of the standouts. The only disappointments are wide-eyed attack-cats that look like poorly rendered creatures that would look more fitting on a low-rent CW series.
The plot is too sprawling and circuitous to adequately summarize in a paragraph or two, but boiled down, this is all about Grindelwald's dark wizardry establishing its Voldemort-style foothold on the cruel and fearful tendencies of the wizarding populace, and the fissures in society that allow the bigotry and fear-mongering to fester. The real-world political parallels are subtle but stark.
Rowling's writing instincts have developed substantially since her "Harry Potter" days. This is no kid's story. She sheds lazy formulas she relied on in the past to buck against tradition and expectations. Romances you expect to see develop fizzle, and showdowns that seem obvious evolve into something more.
Entrancing, engrossing and enchanting, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" is a fantastic beast indeed.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.