This piece contains spoilers from the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the newest installment in JK Rowling’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter franchise.
About Magazine was lucky enough to attend an advance screening of the highly-anticipated second installment of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel series last night, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; and boy-oh-boy do we have a lot of thoughts – 3/5 Stars.
The film, which follows Rowling and director David Yates’ 2016 film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is set shortly after the end of the first film in the pre-war 1900s where we find the freshman film’s protagonist, Newt Scamander (played shyly by ginger biscuit Eddie Redmayne), back home in London after releasing his book (which shares a name with the film) and saving New York City from black magical peril. No big deal. Although captured by the MACUSA — that’s the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or the Ministry of Magic’s American equivalent — in the first film, antagonist Gellert Grindelwald (fan-least-favorite Johnny Depp) is on the loose in Paris where he is garnering a following he hopes to help him escalate the power held by pure-blood witches and wizards (magical folk that descend from only magical bloodlines) over non-magical people worldwide. Throughout the film, Scamander and his trio of hapless misfit comrades (portrayed by Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, and Alison Sudol) must come together (and split apart) again to learn what Grindelwald is up to and begin the process of thwarting his plans … sort of.
There were a lot of questions and controversies that preceded the release of this film — two of the most important of which (especially for the LGBTQ+ community) being:
- Why the actual fuck are we letting Johnny Depp be a key player in what will likely be one of the most successful film franchises of this century after he has proven to be — on video, nonetheless — a man who physically and mentally abused his ex-wife, Amber Heard? I mean … really, Jo? The story of your success is so much about overcoming abuse in your first marriage, and abuse is an integral part of Harry Potter’s own story of heroism. I know that you don’t retain sole control over what happens in these films, but for fuck’s sake, you are JK-fucking-Rowling. You can have anything you want with just the snap of your fingers. Kind of like … I don’t know … magic!
- Are we gonna see Dumbledore get reeeeaaaal gay in this movie? Prior to the film’s release, director David Yates’ announced that the young Albus Dumbledore (played by the very sexy in some well-fitted suits Jude Law) would not be “explicitly” gay, in spite of the fact that years before the concept of these movies was ever even drawn up, Jo Rowling had announced to fans that Dumbledore was a powerful old queen — a Supreme maybe. (Probs not). The answer to this question will likely surprise you and will come later in this review.
I cannot answer the first question, as it does not make sense to me. That being said, after attending Leaky Con this past year — the official Harry Potter convention that was hosted in Dallas, TX in the late summer — and attending a panel about Rowling’s creative liberties she’s taken with the Harry Potter canon, it was very clear to me that I was not the only person who was dumbstruck by Depp’s involvement in the films going forward. Many of us were unaware of his involvement in the first film until the final scenes of it where we see the character who was before only referenced briefly in that film and in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When news broke of Depp’s less-than-acceptable choices of words and actions used toward now-ex-wife Amber Heard, as well as video surfacing of him throwing wine glasses across a room at her, feminist and queer fans of the films were outraged — many of whom even called for Depp’s firing and replacement. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a character — notably those with far more screen time passed than Depp — had been replaced in the Wizarding World Universe. And besides, in 2017/18, we’ve seen people lose a lot for equally deplorable behavior. Roseanne Barr was ousted from her own TV show after a racist tweet, and men all across the globe are slowly being fired, shamed, and charged for acts of sexual assault and rape (then again, many are not 😡). But nothing came of this uproar from faithful fans, really; unless you count a bullshit not-apology from JK Rowling.
Here’s the thing: we all love JK Rowling; she created a world that we all want to live in and that some of us obsess over, even having taken the time to get sorted into Hogwarts houses and to buy $40 wands off the shelves of Barnes and Noble. We’re kind of obsessive little weirdos that have followed these stories now into the tenth film, with many of us even having read or seen the highly-criticized stage play sequel, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I still have Jewish guilt about how much I hated it. But, as pointed out to a friend and I during the last Leaky Con panel we attended, Rowling has begun to play a little fast-and-loose with the Harry Potter canon. She’s literally become the loose canon of canon, because we just never know what to expect next.
And the newest Fantastic Beasts was no exception to that rule. The film — while entertaining and with just as much world expansion as any Rowling tale — was often confusing. Mind you, we showed up fifteen minutes late due to me being stuck in traffic, but for a film that runs about 2 ¼ hours, we assumed we didn’t miss much. Where we found the film was oddly reminiscent of the later Harry Potter films, with Grindelwald — in true Voldemort form — meeting up with all his evil little buddies, telling them about the new world he wanted to create, and sending them off on cryptic, dark missions even though there was that one token follower — a la any Malfoy — who was kind of like, “Guys … should we really be doing this?” The only difference here was that Grindelwald maintained a fully-formed nose/soul, although he did have one ivory-colored eye, which I still don’t quite understand. But, I’m digressing from the point.
The film then jumped back to Newt, who is traipsing around London all willy-nilly — presumably because he’s now a published author and life is good — in spite of the fact that he’s kind of being watched by the Ministry of Magic after the shit that went down in NYC in the first film. Remember? Credence — AKA a very foine Ezra Miller — was possessed (so to speak) by some evil magic known as an Obscurus — which is basically what happens when children who have magical powers are forced to or choose to repress their magic, therein creating an evil monster within themselves. It seemed as though Credence died at the end of the first film, but apparently — and, again, confusingly enough — he did not. Then, like we all do at some point during the day, he traveled from New York City to Paris to join a circus in search of his birth mother, which also does not really pan out for him. *Sigh*
Back to the story: when we find Newt, he’s being somewhat-stalked by a young Albus Dumbledore who, even in his younger years, is as glib and cryptic as ever. Dumbledore informs Scamander that he needs to go find Credence — still don’t know how he survived, but maybe that was explained in those first fifteen minutes 🤷🏼♀️ — and that he has to be the one to take down Grindelwald as Dumbledore apparently cannot.
*Shrugs* Makes sense, I guess. I mean, what do all Harry Potter fans know of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship? Let’s see … they were BFFs back in the day. Then Grindelwald started dabbling in some dark shit, and Dumbledore was kind of like, “Yo … das not good.” Then, of course, Grindelwald and Dumbledore fell in love–
— right as Grindelwald was ascending to power as the most powerful dark wizard ever, or at least at the time (sorry, Voldy). That being said, it doesn’t take much reaching for a fan to figure out why Dumbledore — who is repeatedly referred to throughout the film as Grindelwald’s only real equal — can’t take down this motherfucker.
Now, here is the thing, y’all:
I have to take up for our friend Jo Rowling on this one. Because er’rybody was getting reeeaaal upset about the whole gay situation for a while there. And I have to say, I think Rowling and Yates handled it very well. They did exactly what Yates said — they didn’t make Dumbledore explicitly gay. How’s that? Well, in Rowling’s words, “[…] gay people just look like … people […]”. And that’s true here — although one could argue (one being me) that Dumbledore is much better dressed than the other men in this movie and henny do those pants hug all the right places on Jude Law’s beautiful daddy body. ¡Oye, papito ingles! We don’t see Dumbledore getting the ‘D’ in Grindelwald or vice versa, and we don’t see them exchanging Shakespearean sonnets of love. But the foundations of Dumbledore’s big gay secret are all there. From the hesitancy Dumbledore has to explaining why he cannot face Grindelwald in combat to the moment he takes a look in the Mirror of Erised — the mirror featured first in Harry Potter in the Sorcerer’s Stone which shows the onlooker the thing he or she most desires. In the mirror, Dumbledore sees Grindelwald staring back at him, as well as a flashback of their youth when they made an unbreakable vow to never stand-off against one another. The subtleties here are anything but, and the groundwork for what is likely going to be expounded upon later in the series is laid. Remember … we still have three films for them to totally bone out, guys. Chill.
This may be the least confusing part of the film, but certainly it isn’t the most expository. In fact, most of the film is exposition. Watching the events unfold plays out like reading a novel. It’s a surprise that Rowling didn’t replace sluglines in her script with chapter headers. However, that is what Rowling does best. Rather than beginning the film — and surely with five films in total there was time to do this — with a visual of how Credence came to survive, why the spell to erase Jacob’s memory (played by Dan Fogler) didn’t stick, and why Tina Goldstein (Waterston) isn’t with Scamander after their shared public display of affection at the end of the first film, we’re instead told throughout the first 45 minutes the ins-and-outs of how magic works and why things are they way they are. 🤦🏼♀️ And that’s where Rowling’s writing legacy fails itself. In an effort to fit so many Harry Potter tie-ins into this film — including the history of how Voldemort’s prized snake/horcrux Nagini came to life — Rowling does too much telling and, in turn, some serious retcon.
What always made the Harry Potter series such a great tale — save for the final book/movie installments, in which she got a bit carried away with squeezing in the story of the Deathly Hallows and Dumbledore’s backstory before she ran out of space to write them — was that we got to watch everything play out. Jo set mysteries in place that were always a bit expository when it came down to the explanation, but the fun laid in watching the story get to that exposition. Whether it be the origins of the Sorcerer’s Stone — btdubbs, old-ass Nicholas Flamel plays an important if not hilarious and unnecessary part in this film — Sirius Black’s relationship with his family and the Potters, or each and every big reveal that came along with Snape’s character, there was something that kept readers and viewers coming back for more. In spite of the fact that Rowling has created a number of cliffhangers that will certainly leave curious fans waiting until the 2020 release of the currently untitled third film, she’s kind of taken the fun out of them.
The largest and probably most aggravating example comes again from Credence’s character, whom we discover at the end of the film — once again through some heavy exposition — to be a lost sibling of the Dumbledore family (or is he? Grindelwald lies, y’all!). In doing so — as per the aforementioned retcon — it seems as though Rowling has tried to create some shocking air of mystique that ties back to the original tale we all know and love. Unfortunately, what she’s doing instead is rewriting a history and robbing the new series of the ability to stand on its own two feet.
All of that said, there are some great parts to this movie — though my friend Kirby would disagree about the one I’ll mention first.
- Queenie (played by Sudol) turns out to be going through some internalized issues because she’s in love with Jacob, a muggle (or no-maj, or whatthefuckever we’re supposed to be calling them now), who wants to be with her but doesn’t want to wed in order to keep her out of Azkaban (or the American equivalent). This struggle brings out — quite curiously, if nothing else — a desire to try to better understand those of Grindelwald’s and leads her right into his ranks as his newest follower.
- We get to see more people of color cast in important roles in this film. From Claudia Kim — who plays the human personification of Nagini — to the incomparably talented daughter of Lenny Kravitz, Zoe Kravitz (who BY THE WAY did not have to fucking die), to a handful of others who not only play key-roles but actually play important lineage ties to families of the original film series.
- HOGWARTS! We get to go back to Hogwarts! The time spent there is brief — and rightfully so — but in seeing a young Dumbledore (as well as a young Minerva McGonagall, played by Fiona Glascott), true Potterheads have a nice respite from the often overwhelming confusion of the newest installment.
- The action is pretty incredible. The movie offers more action scenes than the first, and the visual displays of each one are nothing short of breathtaking. The new creatures we’re introduced to — as well as the old (gotta love those Nifflers) — play an integral part in Newt + Co’s successes, and the magical feats that are excellently — if not a bit gaudily — CGI’d are nothing short of gorgeous. In the final battle of the film, we see a stunning showdown between Grindelwald and the Aurors, which quickly escalates into the a literal manifestation of fighting fire-with-fire.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is kind of a mess; it’s true. But the lovely thing about it is the knowledge that — given a little time and direction — Rowling, Yates, and the rest of the creative team at Warner Bros. will have the time to sort through the bedlam and bring something wonderful — and hopefully simpler — for the final three films in the series. I mean … we’ve got at least six years until we know exactly how everything will end. And one thing is for certain: this is an entirely different arena than the Harry Potter films. The reason we’re so easily disappointed or excited is because we have no idea what to expect. We don’t have seven books in our laps to reference leading up to the films’ releases. And that is a big blind spot not only for us, but for JK Rowling and everyone involved in the creation of this series. Like with all things, it is certain to be hit-or-miss. But what the entire crew has on its side is a loyal fanbase — albeit one that questions pretty much everything nowadays (and rightfully so) — incredibly talented actors, and a wonderful crew to bring something to life that is both aesthetically pleasing and — if nothing else — just enough to fill the space in our hearts that starts to open up when we don’t have anything new to rely on.
And isn’t that kind of magical in and of itself?