Muggles, grab your Eurostar tickets now, as J.K. Rowling’s magical world heads for Paris in a spectacular second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Eddie Redmayne returns as the batty magizoologist Newt Scamander, once again fighting the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who has world domination and Muggle suppression on his twisted mind.
The film opens with an ingenious escape which puts the typical prison break firmly in the shade: a black carriage seemingly pulled by the horses of the Apocalypse, a prisoner under triple-wand security, a swirling, treacly mass of sky and water, a victory for evil. Yes, Grindelwald is back.
Perfectly played by Johnny Depp, he has a whiff of decay and depravity.
His mismatched eyes – one dark, the other white and red-rimmed – his toothbrush moustache and his predilection for military-buttoned coats really work when he conducts a fascist-style rally in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Depp’s hair is a bleached blond number-one cut, with what seems to be gel-assisted meringue on top.
That said, Scamander’s floppy fringe protrudes like a small coral reef, and he hides shyly behind it, hunched in his long coat, only truly at ease with the magical creatures in his suitcase.
It’s 1927, and the Ministry of Magic tries to send Scamander to France to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who nearly destroyed New York with his Obscurus parasite in the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Credence is searching for his own roots, to no avail, and Grindelwald is reeling him in.
Sometimes you feel you need a PhD in Potter Studies to follow the film. Listen carefully, and Rowling’s script spells it all out, occasionally laboriously.
But without heading into spoiler territory, Newt’s brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) arrives with his fiancée Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), who has a key role to play.
Another new attraction is Jude Law as the young Albus Dumbledore, who has a twinkle in his eye and a natty three-piece tweed suit. Dumbledore is not yet headmaster of Hogwarts, but working as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.
He persuades Scamander to search for Credence, because there’s something mysterious in his past life as a schoolboy in Hogwarts which stops him fighting Grindelwald himself.
Scamander has his own agenda too: his undying love for Tina Goldstein, an American ‘auror’ (played by a chic Katherine Waterston) who – guess what? – has also turned up in Le Ministère des Affaires Magiques de la France on the same quest.
Things didn’t work out for Tina and Newt last time, and now his nervous inarticulacy is holding him back. He wants to tell her she has ‘the eyes of a salamander’, which some might not take as a compliment.
The fantastical beasts are plentiful and peculiar: a seaweedy Kelpie, which Scamander rides underwater; a Zouwu Chinese dragon creature; and the baby Nifflers, mole-platypus lookalikes with a habit of stealing the silver. Keep a close eye on the little black Niffler…
The combination of a cute creaturefest and the terrifying rise of magical fascism is a peculiar cocktail, but the sheer inventiveness of Rowling’s world will be as seductive as ever for her fans.
The film opens on November 16.