To say there is a lot going on in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a bit of an understatement. The sequel picks up with Newt (Eddie Redmayne) having published his famous book, but his tale of animal advocacy now takes something of a backseat to a shadow that is covering the magical world: Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The dark wizard has escaped custody and is gaining support in his absolutist cause for wizards to overtake the muggle world. On the other side is Dumbledore (Jude Law), younger than we knew him in the Harry Potter films of course, leading a stand against Grindelwald and using Newt as his pawn in the fight. But don’t forget, as well, about Credence (Ezra Miller), and his journey into freedom, not to mention the American wizards Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), and their unexpected Muggle compatriot Jacob (Dan Fogler).
Like I said, it’s a lot.
Given all of these swirling plots, when Warner Bros. invited us to London last year along with a small group of journalists to visit the set for the sequel, we weren’t sure how much we would really get to see. It was still early days for the production. How much would be built? How much would be green screened?
Well, we saw a lot. And it was all wonderful. A trip to the art department first gave us an overview of what’s to come, and it seems like the movie will take full advantage of the story’s location. While most of the filming was done in London, Parisian landmarks like the Place de la Concorde, the Père Lachaise cemetery, and the distinct corridors, markets, and cobbled streets of the French capital take center stage, revealing a movie that will be — like its predecessor — showing us a wizarding world that is grounded in our own.
Some of the most interesting concept art, though, was for Newt’s basement, which is magically (of course) expanded from what it would seem to be from the exterior of his South London home (and includes a Hogwarts-like moving staircase). The style is “design over logic,” much like what we saw in his briefcase in the first film, including specific environments for all of the animals. There will also be a new character introduced, Bunty, an assistant to Newt who also has a major crush on him (unrequited, tragically).
I was also drawn to the Circus Arcanum art, which teased a colorful but somewhat sinister new home for Credence. It’s a place where he’ll make friends and find his place among other outcasts, but it’s a complicated relationship. Credence will also be on a journey to find out who he really is, which will act as a meeting point for all of the main characters as they come together in Europe to try and save Credence — or destroy him.
There will also be callbacks with updates to some of the Harry Potter films, like in the way that transport into the French Ministry, or Department of Magique, will happen via drinking fountains (rather than phone booths), and a return to Hogwarts that will feature new sets we haven’t seen before (like a charming cubby hole of sorts that the art directors said was one of their favorite sets to build).
We also saw designs of the streets of Paris covered in the fabric of Grindelwald’s banners — which can be seen by wizards only. There’s also a massive underground amphitheater beneath the cemetery that will play a pivotal role late in the movie, as Grindelwald continues to try and convince wizards to join his cause to rule over the Muggle world.
According to the art department, the grandest and most challenging new set that was built is the French Ministry, which is all steel and glass and absolutely exceptional. In the art for it we saw the wizarding take on the Marianne, as well as the wizard world’s astrological signs and more. In a tour later on, we were able to actually visit that massive set, which was full of interesting details like circular typewriters, runes, and a sloped floor. There was no need to imagine oneself in a magical place, you were there.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also took a tour down the fully practical set of the French Diagon Alley (built from the former Lower East Side of the first film), which included a super cool apothecary, “Sublime’s Bonbons,” “Krammelle Confections and Enchantments,” as well as Quidditch equipment shop featuring uniforms with a very early American baseball feel (though the shop has been there since 1392, of course). Crystal balls, astrolabes, giant copper pots … everything was so detailed, down to the horse manure in the streets (yep!) It all felt alive, and most of these stores were more than just fronts — many had rooms you could enter into that really gave everything depth and scope.
Around the corner, in a purposefully dingier spot, was the exterior of Nicolas Flamel’s house. Flamel will play a key role in The Crimes of Grindelwald, as an ancient wizard who is also an ally of Dumbledore’s. There were many runes scratched into the surface here as well, likely to protect the house. But what exactly he will be doing in this mounting war, as the two “chess masters” of Grindelwald and Dumbledore go toe-to-toe, remains to be seen.
Finally, a trip to the prop department (which is always a delight, no matter what set) showed us the characters’ wands up close and in detail. There is a very steampunk influence over this movie, as well as art deco elements. We saw a dictograph (that will have a CG quill), as well as a magical Hoover vacuum and a ticker tape typewriter. The luggage, it should also be noted, was also really fantastic. The department has a 3D printer they use to create some of their designs, which at the time saw 40 people working over seven months to create the props and wand sets and magical bits and bobs that populate this world.
The overall feeling from the set is that it’s clear this sequel is a particularly ambitious expansion of the franchise that is really looking to make itself distinct. There was a lot of energy from the cast and crew regarding the many directions this movie is taking, and the complicated choreography to get there. If the detailed and truly fantastical designs are any indication, The Crimes of Grindelwald will certainly be filled with magical spectacle.