Fantastic Beasts 2: Release date, trailers, cast, plot, reviews

In the pre-Harry Potter sequel, fans will get to know young Dumbledore, but initial takes by critics aren't all that magical.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
10 min read
Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Potter fans, prepare to dive back into the magical world before The Boy Who Lived was ever born. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will take viewers back to the days when Dumbledore and his generation were young(ish).

The second Fantastic Beasts movie has delivered controversy since the beginning, since Johnny Depp and his dark wizard character, Gellert Grindelwald, has a much larger role in this film than in the first. The casting of Depp was criticized because his ex-wife, Amber Heard, accused him of physical and verbal abuse. Heard and Depp later issued a joint statement that implied they'd made peace, but that didn't smooth over Depp's reputation with some Potter fans.

But on the magical side, the film will take the story back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that beloved place that taught Harry, Hermione, Ron and so many other would-be witches and wizards. Just seeing the school's exterior in the trailers had some fans rapturous. And on Tuesday, the final Fantastic Beasts 2 trailer that dropped today gave us a new look at a well-known character.

Watch this: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald final trailer is full of magical reveals

Release date, production info

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will be released Nov. 15 in Australia and Nov. 16 in the US and UK. It'll be available in RealD 3D and IMAX 3D. Most of the film was shot at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in southeast England, with some scenes filmed in London, Switzerland and Paris. David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will direct this one, too.

Author J.K. Rowling has said the Fantastic Beasts series will consist of five movies, though original plans were for a trilogy. (There were eight Harry Potter films, so this is nothing.)

In the first film, audiences were introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist who comes from England to America circa 1926 and meets up with a variety of Muggles and magical types. At the film's end, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) emerges, though he's taken into custody.

In the second film, a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists Newt to stop Grindelwald from raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings. The second film is set just a year later, in 1927, and seems to take place in England and Paris.

Watch this: Fantastic Beasts 2 trailer shows off younger Dumbledore

Early reviews

Reviews started to come in on Nov. 8, and here's a sampling of what critics are saying. 

A lovable mess
"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald offers greater stakes, a tyrannical villain and more of those adorable creatures only JK's creative genius can come up with. And if nothing else, the Fantastic Beasts franchise provides us with yet another way in to Rowling's much-loved and incredibly detailed magical world. But it's definitely for fans and fans alone. Sorry muggles." -- Jennifer Bisset, CNET

Is everyone afraid to edit J.K. Rowling?
"Stuart Craig's production design is, as ever, a marvelous survey of historic architectural styles, and the dresses are so fabulous they overshadow the elves and dragons. An accompanying book of photos and sketches would be something to treasure. And the film itself, directed by Potter regular David Yates, is a grand achievement in many ways. But it's also an unfocused, overwhelming and ultimately numbing sprawl that seems to drag on forever."  -- Nicholas Barber, BBC

The sequel improves on the first film
"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second in the projected five-movie franchise written by J.K. Rowling, displays enough of the author's magical formula and Dickensian narrative power to make this sequel a huge step up from the middling Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). The sequel has better and at times galvanizing special effects, a darker tone and a high-stakes battle between good and evil. Best of all, its characters are more vibrantly drawn, and tangled in relationships that range from delightful to lethal."  -- Caryn James, The Hollywood Reporter

J.K. Rowling prequel-sequel conjures magic and messiness
"The Wizarding World gets a lot bigger in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a new fantasy adventure that plays like a 1,000-page novel shoved into a 134-minute running time. It's full of exciting new characters, revelations and storylines, but the only way you could possibly keep them all in the air at the same time would be to use a Wingardium Leviosa spell. And spoiler alert: Those don't actually exist."  -- William Bibbiani, The Wrap

The film lacks real characters and a compelling story
"The noisiest, most rhythmless, and least coherent entry in the Wizarding World saga since Alfonso Cuarón first gave the franchise its sea legs in 2004, Grindelwald feels less like The Hobbit than a trawl through the appendixes of The Silmarillion — a confusing jumble of new characters and eye-crossing marginalia. Most of the surface pleasures of filmic Potterdom (the chiaroscuro tones, the overqualified character actors, the superb costuming, James Newton Howard's warmly enveloping score) have survived intact, but real magic is in short supply."  -- Andrew Barker, Variety

Plot news, rumors and theories

McGonagall mess: Professor Minerva McGonagall is well-known to Potter fans as head of Gryffindor and Harry's Transfiguration teacher. She reportedly appears in Fantastic Beasts 2, which has confused some fans, since Potter canon has her born in 1935 and the film is set in 1927. Some think Rowling is allowing this rethinking of McGonagall's age to set up a parallel between McGonagall and Queenie Goldstein. McGonagall came from a half-magic, half-muggle family and reportedly broke off a romance with a muggle, and Queenie, herself magical, is in love with Newt's friend Jacob Kowalski, a muggle. Will the two share thoughts on the pros and cons of magical-muggle relationships?

Wand-erful skills: Eddie Redmayne revealed that he had to get a movement coach to help with his wand skills for the Fantastic Beasts films. Apparently wand-wielding is tougher than it looks, and Redmayne's co-star Jude Law agreed. But for Law, it turned out to be unnecessary. "I actually studied these wonderful films of Picasso painting through glass to see how he held his brush and I watched films of conductors conducting," Law said on Britain's The Graham Norton Show. "And I get to do just one spell in the film and it was at a distance where I vaguely waved it in the air.

Dumbledore's sexuality: Cast member Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone in the film, said Dumbledore's homosexuality is not simply hinted at this time around. "For me, personally, I find Dumbledore's queerness extremely explicit in this film," he told Total Film magazine. "He sees Grindelwald, his young lover who's the love of his life; he sees him in the Mirror of Erised. What does the Mirror of Erised show you? Nothing more than the most desperate desire of your heart."

Don't pre-judge: Miller also lashed out at fans who are judging the film based on rumor and leaked reports. ""Why don't you wait until you see the film before you start talking shit on Twitter?" he told Total Film. "Or wait to make up your own mind about something for once in your life." 

It seems likely he could be talking both about Dumbledore's sexuality and the role played by Claudia Kim. Let's back up here: Kim's character is a Maledictus, a person whose blood is cursed, and who will eventually turn into a beast. Fans had been theorizing that the beast in question will be a snake, due in part to the scaly tights she is wearing in a cast photo, and also because of a circus poster in the teaser for a snake girl act that is labeled "Maledictus." In September's final trailer release, she's seen twisting and turning, and then a giant snake is seen, so that theory seems to be true.  

But some writers have criticized Kim's part, saying that if she is the only Asian female in the film, there are racial connotations with her being essentially Voldemort's pet and slave. Kim addressed the issue with Korean publication All K Pop, saying "I'm looking forward to viewers being satisfied and the controversy fading away once the film premieres."

That Harry Potter connection: Need more dish on the movie? Get your hands on the behind-the-scenes audiobook called Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald -- Makers, Mysteries and Magic, available on Audible.com. The nine-chapter book, narrated by Fantastic Beasts star Dan Fogler, features material pulled from 100 hours of cast interviews, plus chats with the crew and info about connections to the world of Harry Potter himself.

Expect a film noir look: Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood told author J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site that she was inspired by 1949 film classic The Third Man. "My inspiration definitely reflects film noir and I love the way The Third Man looks; I mean it's a great-looking film," she said. "The use of light and shadow is beautiful."


In new images we see young Dumbledore in front of (drumroll please) the Mirror of Erised (!!!).

Warner Bros. Pictures

Hogwarts isn't just there for the looks: Harry Potter's treasured alma mater plays a real role in the film, the same Pottermore article reports. "Going back to Hogwarts is a very important function of this story," director Yates said, keeping any spoilers to himself.

New critters aplenty: Since "Fantastic Beasts" is right in the title, fans know to expect more creatures, and Eddie Redmayne has already revealed that his Niffler will have babies in this film. And look to the skies: Supervising art director Martin Foley says, "Jo (Rowling) likes birds so there's a lot of birdlike creatures."

Going global: The first film was set in New York, this one is back in Harry Potter's homeland of England, and Fantastic Beasts characters better keep those passports handy for the next three films. "At some point the movies are going to probably go all over the world," Yates told Pottermore. "I know where the third movie is going..." But to no one's surprise, he wouldn't say where.

Horsing around: In the first film, evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) is captured by MACUSA, magical America's governing body. The movie's title pretty much gives it away: Grindelwald likely escapes and commits the crimes that send Newt Scamander after him. And a toy maybe gives a clue as to how his escape happens. Digital Spy revealed a photo of a LEGO set that shows Grindelwald escaping from a carriage pulled by a thestral, a rare and creepy skeletal horse that can only be seen by those who have seen death.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Trailer reveals: The teaser trailer that came out in March excited fans by showing the character at Harry Potter's (future) alma mater, Hogwarts. It also reveals that Newt (Redmayne) is working with future Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Law), and must head to Paris and a strange circus.

Watch this: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald final trailer is full of magical reveals

Sealed with a hiss: Kim is not just any Maledictus, but Nagini, the eventual Horcrux aligned with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. She starts out being able to control her transformations, but Entertainment Weekly reports she eventually is stuck permanently in snake form.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Creedence Barebone (Ezra Miller) was thought to be dead at the hands of MACUSA Aurors in the first film, but he's back for this one, as confirmed by author J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site. And sharp-eyed fans think the trailer is hinting at his true parentage.

Dumbledore gets to be young: Love relationship with Grindelwald aside, fans should expect a different Dumbledore than they know from his time with Harry. "He's a maverick and a rebel and he's an inspiring teacher at Hogwarts," director David Yates told Entertainment Weekly. "He's witty and has a bit of edge. He's not this elder statesman."

Brotherly love: Fans were a little excited by the final scene in the first trailer, which shows Newt Scamander fighting alongside his older brother Theseus, a war hero and Head of the Auror Office at the British Ministry of Magic. Scamander brothers, together at last! In the second trailer, Theseus is again seen, at one point telling Newt he has to pick a side, leading the younger Scamander to reply, "I don't do sides."

Teacher as student: Hey, is that Dumbledore and Grindelwald as students themselves? The second trailer contains a very brief shot of young versions of the two touching the Mirror of Erised.

What about that Apparating rule? One scene in the trailer footage really stood out: Ministry of Magic officials are seen Apparating (appearing out of nowhere) at Hogwarts, presumably to meet with Dumbledore. In the books, Hermione Granger constantly reminds others that Apparating and Disapparating is not allowed on Hogwarts' grounds. But then again, this is well before Hermione's time there, and maybe the very events of this film create the need for the rule.


Don't worry, Niffler is back too.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast: Who's who?

Returning characters

New faces

Fantastic Beasts 2 takes Harry Potter fans back to Hogwarts

See all photos

This piece was first published on July 5 and is frequently updated with the latest news, rumors and speculation.

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