Cinemadope: Beast Mode – New stories in an old world

It’s almost the holiday season once again, which means that in a few short weeks many of us will be
revisiting Pottersville, the what-if town that will come to pass if George Bailey decides to end his
heroic existence in It’s a Wonderful Life. Filled with seedy bars, loose morals, and jazz, Pottersville
was supposed to be a dark warning to George, but let’s be honest: it also looked a heck of a lot more
interesting than Bailey’s plain off-white Bedford Falls.

We may not be quite into Capra season yet, but this month, another sort-of Pottersville comes to area screens. And like with Capra’s holiday chestunt, this one reminds us that sometimes it’s the villains
who give the story its sharpest spice.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,
director David Yates’ 2016 fantasy film based on an earlier novel by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.
The second of five planned films in the Beasts series, this one picks up not long after the end of the first
story, which concluded with the capture of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a powerful wizard with
some dark ideas.

In the new film, Grindelwald has escaped the custody of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United
States of America; one of the big changes from the Potter series was seeing the first story set in a
storybook New York of the 1920s), and has begun to gather his acolytes to pursue a dark goal: he wants
to see pure-blood wizards ruling over the rest of the world. While the “wizards above all” goals might
bear some similarity to the infamous Voldemort of the Potter series, Depp’s villain is decidedly more
fashion-conscious. Voldemort’s absent nose left him looking a bit like a creepy turkey neck with eyes,
but Grindelwald sports a stylishly mussed blond hairdo and well tailored outfits instead of wizard’s
robes.

Returning as hero Newt Scamander is Eddie Redmayne, who gets some help this time around from
another character familiar to Potter fans: Albus Dumbledore. The Hogwarts headmaster, played so well
by Michael Gambon in the earlier series, is portrayed here as a younger man by Jude Law. The
architects of the Potter universe have to walk a fine line with character crossover as these films move
forward, and as their stories get closer in time to those already told. More than most, Potter fans are
attached to their universe, and invested in the actors that have helped make it real. If a note or two
doesn’t ring true, the whole song might suffer.

But the future, as George Bailey discovered, is up to us to make. For now, it’s excitement enough to have a new story set in Rowling’s richly imagined world. And like Bailey, I think we can all be
forgiven for wanting to escape the real world for a little bit.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, opens November 16 in wide release. 

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

Jack Brown

Author: Jack Brown

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