“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is not meeting great reviews. The second installment in J.K. Rowling’s double dip into the “Harry Potter” universe has been called “the first flat-out terrible product of the ‘Harry Potter’ expanded universe” that is “more of a slog than a thrill.” This is in pretty stark comparison to reviews of the first film, which garnered $814 million worldwide at the box office and hailed Rowling’s screenwriting talent for delivering a story that was familiar yet entirely captivating at the same time.
Being a fan of big theatrics, multiple storylines and straightforward entertainment, I don’t have any qualms with “The Crimes of Grindelwald.” But I did wait until just a couple of months ago to watch “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” I, like a good portion of “Harry Potter” fans, was skeptical about the new venture. To me, Potter was Potter and should be left at that.
But, somehow, Rowling is doing it again. Sure, critics may be complaining about her web of storylines and insignificant nods to Hogwarts and nearly-long-forgotten “Harry Potter” characters (I had to be reminded about how and why Nicolas Flamel was hanging out, for example), but, hello -- the fact of the matter is that “Potter” fans are on board.
The last “Harry Potter” book was published in 2007; the last “Harry Potter” film was released in 2011. Rowling was writing the ending of this epic story as the films were coming out and her popularity was rising. Then in 2015, Rowling announced that she’d be co-writing a two-part play, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a story that focused on Harry Potter’s youngest son Albus after the events shown in the epilogue of “The Deathly Hallows.”
Of course, Rowling has written some other pieces centering around the “Harry Potter” universe. One of those books, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” came out in 2001 and served as a guidebook for the creatures found in and around Hogwarts and the rest of the magical community. Cut to 15 years later, and Rowling had penned a movie script.
For her fans, she said to Entertainment Weekly.
"This fandom is the most remarkable in the world, for me, obviously," Rowling said. "Their loyalty and their passion for these stories really is the reason that I went back, because, without that, I don’t think I would have written these movies."
“Fantastic Beasts” operates as both a prequel and a supplement to “Harry Potter” -- while (almost) none of the characters that we became accustomed to in the seven books and eight movies appear in these new installments, there’s nevertheless an energy that feels familiar. Even as much as the “Harry Potter” world has been written about, examined and reexamined, we’re getting more backstory to things we’d never before thought about; we’re seeing new charms and spells that Harry and his friends never had any use for.
“The script is labyrinthian,” Eddie Redmayne, who's the most adorably awkward Newt Scamander they could have found, told EW. “You’re going down this maze, and Jo [Rowling] is weaving the stories together with such intricacy. Along the way, connections to ‘Harry Potter’ and secrets are falling at your feet.”
Just the mention of Grindelwald himself this go-around perks the ears of the “Harry Potter” generation. You know you’ve heard the name before, but he wasn’t that relevant to Harry, Ron and Hermione. He’s real relevant to Newt, though, so don’t you want to know why?
“Although he remained rather mysterious in the Potter books, I had a very clear understanding of who Grindelwald was and what his story had been. Grindelwald is essential to an understanding of how Dumbledore became Dumbledore,” Rowling said, and it’s been made clear that Grindelwald is not the only supplement to this universe she has up her sleeve.
And that, I think, is where the success of “Fantastic Beasts” lies. The people going to watch these films fall into one of two categories: kids and teens that didn’t grow up with “Harry Potter” who may be getting introduced to this world for the first time and are, as a result, enthralled with it all; or those like me, who are well versed enough in the Potter world that every little reference and Easter egg in these films is exciting, something I can flip back to in “Prisoner of Azkaban” and find the exact spot I’d heard of that character’s mother the first time.
As far as the third "category" -- the skeptics -- there’s the fact that these films are casted with the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Ezra Miller. If nothing else, they’re curious.
Rowling has confirmed that we'll see another three “Fantastic Beasts” films, so whether you’re a lifelong fan or belligerently refuse these stories, they’re probably here to stay.