Director: David Yates Writer: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, William Nadylam, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, Victoria Yeates, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Kevin Guthrie, Fiona Glascott, Brontis Jodorowski, Thea Lamb, Joshua Shea, Wolf Roth, Jamie Campbell Bower, Toby Regbo
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)
**BEWARE: SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS**
A Word from the Guise:
J.K. Rowling’s latest installment in the Wizarding World cinematic universe is further evidence for why prequels of beloved franchises don’t work. 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fresh entry that paid homage to its parent franchise, while not drawing too heavily things we’ve already seen. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, however, bloats itself with too much exposition and – like the Star Wars prequels before it – creates too many links to the original series, some of which contradict pre-existing canon. Not only that, but the film does a disservice to its female and POC characters. They are so egregious, I think we’ll start there.
The first witch on the pyre is Queenie Goldstein. You’ll remember Queenie as the benevolent and free-spirited, albeit meek, younger sister of Tina Goldstein, and her adorable, if not somewhat heartbreaking, relationship with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski. We’re reintroduced to Queenie and Jacob almost right off the bat, as they sneak into Newt’s house in London. At first, they appear as happy and in love as they were in the first film. The only thing that might be off is that Jacob seems like he’s drunk. Well, it’s quickly revealed that Queenie has put a spell on him to get him to elope with her. Jacob has been refusing to marry her, because of MACUSA laws that prohibit the marriage of witches or wizards to No-Majs. So Queenie pulls a Merope Gaunt and magically coerces Jacob to elope with her to England, where such laws do not exist. In the era of #MeToo, this is a hideous misstep. But Queenie is further dragged through the mud as, by the end of the film, she’s joined the ranks of Gellert Grindelwald, because “he wants to bring the Wizarding World out of hiding”, and – you know – “she’s in love”. Everything Queenie does in this film is completely out-of-character. And I’m sure there are such stalwart Rowling fans that would cry that “she’s J.K. Rowling’s character!” and “she knows her best!”, and to some extent I would agree. However, Queenie was so poorly handled in this film, that it’s clear that her actions were written as plot devices for the sake of creating drama. And yes, it is more dramatic, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your characters’ character to create drama.
The second witch on the pyre is the Maledictus, Nagini. Potter fans will know Nagini from the original Harry Potter series as Voldemort’s murderous, evil snake and Horcrux. This entry has already come under fire for the casting of the film’s only Asian actor as someone who eventually becomes a slave to a white man. But I’d like to go further and say that human-Nagini is written terribly, as she’s portrayed as a demure woman, which is a role that Asian actresses are all-too-often relegated to. In fact, if I’m remembering correctly (which I might not be, as I’ve only seen the film once), the only line Nagini says through the whole film is “Credence”. This is not what diversity looks like. More to the point, she serves nothing to the plot of the film, and therefore exists only to serve as a link between Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter. We’ve seen this before, with C3P0 and R2D2 in the Star Wars prequels and Legolas in The Hobbit trilogy. Admittedly, R2D2 at least had significance to the plot.
Nagini isn’t the only link to the Potter series to appear in Grindelwald. Professor McGonagall makes a cameo appearance in the film, both in (present-day) 1927 as well as in Leta’s flashbacks to her time at Hogwarts (circa 1917???). Now, I’d be more keen on this type of a nod to the fans, however this is where the established canon gets messed up. Based on her biography on Pottermore (whose canonicity has been contested since the site went live) and what is presented in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall’s birth year is 1935. That’s 8 years after the events of Crimes of Grindelwald. Even if we don’t take Pottermore into account, during Umbridge’s inspection of her classes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall states that she’s been teaching at Hogwarts for 39 years. At this point in the novel, the year is 1995, which would mean that McGonagall began her career at Hogwarts in 1956. Coincidentally, that is 39 years after we see her first teaching in Crimes of Grindelwald. Just to cover all of our bases: maybe the McGonagall that appears in Fantastic Beasts is actually Minerva’s mother, Isobel? I’d opt for that, except that the film credits her as Minerva McGonagall.
Then we have Leta Lestrange, the apple of the Scamander brothers’ eyes. I was very much looking forward to getting to know Leta Lestrange. For surely, young Newt wouldn’t have ever fallen in love with someone as evil as Leta’s distant relative (by marriage) Bellatrix Lestrange. But it transpires that Leta’s purpose in this film is to deliberately confuse us as to Credence’s true identity. For much of the film, we’re led to believe that Credence Barebone is actually Leta’s long-lost half-brother, whom everyone believed to be dead. They’re not even subtle about it. When Dumbledore brings the subject up to him in an enigmatic way that only Dumbledore can do, Newt says disbelievingly, “Not Leta’s brother?” Rowling is so determined to convince us that Leta and Credence are half-siblings that much of the plot revolves around another character named Yusuf Kama, a French-Senegalese wizard who is trying to track-down and kill Credence. In a heavily expository scene, we learn that Yusuf’s mother was Imperiused and kidnapped by a man named Lestrange. He raped her and she gave birth to Leta and then died. Yusuf was determined to avenge his mother, and sought to kill Leta, but he realized that the Lestrange man didn’t love Leta. But luckily for Yusuf, Lestrange remarried and she gave birth to a boy, Corvus. Lestrange loved the boy, but suspected they were in danger. So he sent his son with his servant to America, where he was left in the care of Mary Lou Barebone (because we’re just supposed to believe now that she wasn’t spouting off anti-magic rhetoric on the streets of New York, or at least convinced the servant of a powerful Dark wizard that she wasn’t a magic-hating bigot?). As Yusuf believes up til this point, Corvus grew up to be Credence. He’s about to kill Credence, when “NO!” cries Leta. He’s not Corvus, because Leta killed Corvus. Then we get another expository flashback, that shows Leta swapping Corvus for another baby on the ship, because Corvus cried all the time, and she wanted a break. But then the ship sinks before Leta can swap them back, and Corvus goes down with the ship (which is probably meant to be the Titanic). So nobody still knows who Credence is. But it’s fine, because we’re immediately thrown into Act III, as a secret doorway opens, leading them all right into Grindelwald’s rally. Eventually, Leta is killed by Grindelwald.
So, anyone keeping score at home, that’s 0 for 3 POC characters that bare any weight on the plot of this film. But, diversity, amirite?
Then we have Tina Goldstein, who was so integral to the plot of the first film. This film, though, she has very little screen time, and is really just mad at Newt the whole time, because she thought Newt was engaged to Leta. Then there’s Seraphina Picquery, the MACUSA President, who has one scene in the very beginning (0 for 4 on POC significance). And Vinda Rosier, who’s basically to Grindelwald what Bellatrix is to Voldemort, but with less screen time. Then we have Bunty, Newt’s assistant, who’s really quite delightful and hilarious, but alas has only one scene. None of these women nor the other women mentioned have a conversation with any one of the others. In fact, the only two women who interact at all (without having a man present) are Vinda and Queenie. But it’s mostly Queenie blabbering on about how she should be going while Vinda watches her silently. It was, admittedly, quite a funny scene. Nevertheless, it would be nice for one of these movies to pass the Bechdel test.
My last two grievances with the film are regarding plot points. We’ll start with the most minor one. Not that it’s a minor plot point (it’s a huge one, actually), but it’s a minor grievance: Grindelwald’s blood pendant. It is revealed through the Mirror of Erised (which apparently shows us past events now???) that Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood pact not to fight each other. The consequences of this blood pact are not yet revealed, but it seems this is the true reason why Dumbledore let Grindelwald gain so much power in Europe before intervening. Grindelwald keeps the blood pact locked in a magical pendant that he wears in his breast pocket. During Grindelwald’s rally, Newt’s niffler steals the pendant and Newt returns it to Dumbledore. It’s not the pendant’s existence that I take umbrage with, but rather how quickly it’s been delivered to Dumbledore. Remember, this film takes place in 1927. Dumbledore didn’t confront Grindelwald until 1945. I can’t imagine that it took Dumbledore 18 years to figure out how to destroy the pendant, but what we learn about Dumbledore and Grindelwald in Deathly Hallows is that Dumbledore just couldn’t face him until that legendary duel in 1945.
My final grievance with the film is the big plot twist at the end. Does it really count as a twist when they use one of the most cliché twists in storytelling? It turns out Credence Barebone’s true identity is Aurelius Dumbledore. Yes, that’s right: Credence is the long-lost Dumbledore brother that none of us ever knew about. I KNOW, RIGHT?! STRAIGHT OUT OF A TELENOVELA!! Or he might be a cousin or nephew or son, even, of Albus; I can’t recall if it’s actually specified. Now, I’m torn on this one, because this information is divulged to us by Grindelwald to
Credence Aurelius at the very end of the film. As all diabolical villains, Grindelwald is a fantastic liar, and could very well be spinning this lie to fuel a hatred for Dumbledore within Credence, in order to get Credence to kill Dumbledore since Grindelwald himself cannot do it. However, earlier in the film, Dumbledore tells Newt a legend about his family that says a phoenix will always come to any Dumbledore in need. Just before divulging this information to Credence, Grindelwald takes the baby bird that he (Credence) is holding and we see it grow into a great, fiery phoenix. Then again, it’s not as if Dumbledores are the only people who are capable of keeping a phoenix. And is this phoenix Fawkes? We never saw Dumbledore with Fawkes in this film. It would be interesting if this is how Dumbledore ultimately acquires Fawkes. But it would also be pretty cool if we got to see a battle between Fawkes and Credence’s phoenix.
These are most, if not all, of the issues that this film presented for me. But there were also a lot of really great things that it gave us too.
I loved all of the new creatures, especially the zouwu, that humongous cat-dragon-thing. It’s adorable, and the scene where Newt gets its attention with the little toy is possibly my favourite scene in the movie. Then, of course, there are the baby nifflers which are beyond adorable. And the leucrotta, that absurd moose thing: I’m all about it. The matagots were really cool, and I’ve been waiting to see the kelpie and kappa realised on screen since I first read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them back in 2001.
It pains me to admit it, but I was actually pretty happy with Johnny Depp’s performance. I stopped being a fan of Johnny Depp a long time ago, before I knew of any abuse allegations against him. I don’t remember what film it was, but there was a post-Pirates movie that I saw and I realised that he was basically just doing Jack Sparrow again. Then everything else I saw him in after that was just a pale imitation of Jack Sparrow. It became an inside joke (with myself): it’s Jack-Sparrow-in-a-fedora, or it’s CGI-Jack-Sparrow, or it’s singing-Jack-Sparrow-with-a-straight-razor, or it’s singing-Jack-Sparrow-as-a-wolf, or it’s Jack-Sparrow-appropriating-Native-culture, you get the idea. So I was furious when, two years ago, it was announced that Depp would be playing Grindelwald. I’d always imagined Grindelwald as this horrifying, Hitler-wizard even worse than Voldemort. I had this horrible image in my head of Depp turning him into this wacky caricature played to level 900 for comic flare. Yes, Depp’s performance as Gellert Grindelwald was grandiose, but somehow nuanced and understated. It was quite a relief. That being said, he’s an abuser of women. So, I wish he’d never been cast at all.
Two of my favourite things about the film were the production design and Nicolas Flamel. I loved the look and feel of Newt’s house and the French magical world. What I most look forward to with each film is to see what the magical community of that country looks like: its architecture, its clothing, how it’s hidden, etc. As for Nicolas Flamel, I truly hope Rowling uses him as a model for bridging her two Wizarding World franchises. Think about it, Flamel is someone we knew existed in and prior to the Potter series. The character of Nicolas Flamel is based on the real person of the same name, who – as legend had it – discovered the philosopher’s stone and achieved immortality. The real Flamel was French, so it stands to reason that Rowling’s Flamel would also be French, and since this film takes place predominately in France during the character’s lifetime, it makes perfect sense that he would appear in this story.
All-in-all, I enjoyed the film. It’s flaws aren’t enough to make me banish it to the outer reaches like a certain reads-like-a-bad-fan-fiction play. So I’m eager, though somewhat apprehensive, to see how the next 3 films unfold.
Academy Awards Predictions:
– Best Cinematography
– Best Visual Effects
– Best Production Design
– Best Costume Design
– Total nominee predictions: 4