Grade: B-
Entire family: Yes
2018, 134 min., Color
Fantasy
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+ (includes extended cut)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital (extended cut included)
Trailer
Amazon link

Our whole family loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But we were split on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

My wife, who had read the screenplay and all the Harry Potter books and has a good memory, thought it was a really good movie, somewhere in the B+ range. The only thing she didn’t like was a plot point that’s already been so widely discussed on the Internet that it’s not much of a spoiler: Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, turns out to be an enchanted woman.

Meanwhile, my son, who didn’t read the screenplay but still has a good memory and grasp of characters in complicated plots, thought it was a B- at best. And my daughter and I, who found ourselves confused throughout much of the movie, gave it a B-/C+. In other words, I agreed with critics who slammed J.K. Rowling for creating an unnecessarily complicated but relatively low-stakes plot.

Naturally, I assumed that the more you know going into the film, the more you’ll like it—until I read how überfans criticized Rowling for confusing even herself by violating her own timeline. I didn’t notice. I was too confused.

For me, it was like watching an action movie with terrific special effects in a foreign language with no subtitles. It was like listening to an opera sung in German where you kind of know what’s going on, but not really.

Though it was fun seeing Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald, I felt that director David Yates could have nudged him to be just a bit more sinister. As it is, he’s still a more interesting character than the purely evil Voldemort from the Potter films. But would it have hurt to have him be just a little more menacing—even Bond-villain menacing?

Holding it all together is Eddie Redmayne, who is wonderful as always as Newt Scamander, the nerdy wizard who collects and studies fantastic beasts. The critters themselves are also fun to watch. But while his partnership with a very young Albus Dumbledore to foil Grindelwald makes sense and drives the plot right into a segue to the Potter series, the character who suffers most from the addition of Dumbledore (Jude Law) is Newt’s Muggle sidekick from the first film, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski looks and feels as lost as I was at times. He’s simply not integral to the plot—so much so that if this were an office, he’d spend his days sharpening pencils.

Yes, the plot. As near as I could tell, Grindelwald escapes during a prison transfer from New York to London; meanwhile, the Ministry of Magic agrees to let Newt travel again (he had been barred because of mayhem previously caused) if he would help them locate someone in Paris who might be a Potter-like chosen one who could help defeat Grindelwald. And that’s all I’ve got. After that, characters jump into and out of frames with such disturbing regularity that it left me spinning in a revolving door. My son, who just watched it a second time, said it made more sense to him after seeing it again. So plan on watching it multiple times, unless you’re a Potter savant.

But the special effects? How could they get any better? The creatures are believably rendered, the magic looks as real as a natural disaster, and a “blue-light special” scene is particularly impressive. Plus, how much fun is it to see Hogwarts again—the first time on the big screen since 2011! Overall, there’s nothing here that exceeds whatever “adult” material was in the Potter films, so parents can think accordingly.

Rowling told Variety that there were five films currently planned in this series, rather than an initially reported Fantastic Beasts trilogy. In fact, she said there could be more, given that she’s visualized a story arc that spans 19 years.

This Blu-ray combo pack includes not only the film in glorious HD with a rich and resonant Dolby Atmos TrueHD soundtrack, but the option to watch The Crimes of Grindelwald in an extended cut that adds seven minutes. I wish I could tell you that those seven minutes make everything instantly clearer, but that’s not the case. You’re just going to have to watch this multiple times, like everyone else who hasn’t previously read the screenplay.

Language: Extremely mild, with the worst, really, the use of the swearword“hell”

Sex: Nothing graphic, but themes of rape and forced marriage and death in childbirth might be disturbing to viewers old enough to get the crux of it but not old enough to understand completely

Violence: Some blood, some incineration, and a few killing curses, but by and large it’s pretty tame given most superhero movies, even

Adult situations: Apart from a hookah scene, the only thing is mild alcohol use (with one drunk character) and mild smoking of cigarettes

Takeaway: It will be interesting to see if Rowling takes the criticism into account when forging ahead with the other films in this series, now that she’s gone from novelist to screenwriter