By Lillian Ward (‘20)
This article contains spoilers from the film!
The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, takes place in the year 1926. The film pairs the decadence and glamour of the time period with the magic of the wizarding world, while creating an ominous atmosphere that promises action and drama. However, The Crimes of Grindelwald fails to deliver the same sense of storytelling that made its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts, popular among audiences. Besides the various discrepancies in the plot (to be further discussed), The Crimes of Grindelwald seems to rely on precarious twists and turns that appear warp the originality of story being told.
The film picks up from the conclusion events in Fantastic Beasts, focusing on Credence, who is played by Ezra Miller. Although Credence was presumably killed as his obscurus was attacked by aurors, he has somehow remained alive and is driven by a desire to discover his true identity.
The plot centers around Credence who is seen as a threat to the wizarding community, and Grindelwald, who has recently escaped prison, and is gathering followers at an alarming rate. Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, aims to persuade Credence to form an alliance, in order to use Credence’s formidable power as an obscurus. Dumbledore senses Grindelwald’s intentions and persuades the Newt, who is played by Eddie Redmayne, to find Credence before Grindelwald does.
Amongst the rapid dramatic sequences of events, digressions are also present in the plot in the form of new characters whose significance to the story is never fully fleshed out. Take the introduction of the character Bunty, for example. Bunty is a caretaker of Newt’s various magical creatures, who appears infatuated with Newt but otherwise has no impact on the plot.
Likewise, the characters Nagini, played by Claudia Kim, and Nicholas Flamel allude to figures mentioned in the original Harry Potter series, but to do not impact the story being told In the Crimes of Grindelwald.
However, the film also introduces the characters who are central to the direction of the story, such as Leda Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz, Newt’s brother Theseus Scamander, played by Callum Turner, and Yusuf Kama, played by William Nadylam. Surprisingly, the characters who played integral roles in Fantastic Beasts and still remain in the center of the action in The Crimes of Grindelwald, are static and display little to no signs of character development.
In the previous film, Newt Scamander plays the role of a reluctant hero, but still appears somewhat bewildered by his role. Tina Goldstein maintains a role of importance as she continues her work as an auror, but she lacks character development as well.
The lack of character development in Newt and Tina’s characters is present through their complicated relationship, in which their inability to admit their feelings for each other grows both tiresome and somewhat predictable for audiences.
Jacob Kowalski, the muggle with an easygoing attitude towards the complexities and chaos of the wizarding world, starts to have more depth as a character when faced with the choice of joining his girlfriend, Queenie Goldstein, who is played by Alison Sudol. Queenie is on a path to darkness as a follower of Grindelwald. Queenie’s abrupt turn to Grindelwald, who seemingly has the qualities of a fascist dictator warps her characterization. Grindelwald believes wizards should assume power over muggles.
Characterized by her capacity for mind reading, Queenie is rendered as both emotionally sensitive and expressive, which distinguishes her from the more emotionally guarded characters. However her decision to become a follower of Grindelwald portrays her sensitivity and expressiveness as traits of weakness, leading to gullibility as she joins Grindelwald in order to be with Jacob, despite the obvious sinister nature of Grindelwald’s plans. Thus, Queenie’s character seems to be exploited for an abrupt plot device at odds with the story.
Leda Lestrange is another example of a character who is sacrificed for dramatic purposes. Leda’s character shows the most potential for character development; her tragic family backstory and relationship with Newt fills her character with darkness and mystery. When Leda perishes, fighting to save Newt, Tina, and Jacob from Grindelwald, an undiscovered part of the story vanishes with her, leaving the audience with questions that have just begun to emerge that will remain unanswered.
Among the unanswered questions is the lingering confusion over the complexity of the Lestrange family history. Credence’s ties to the family, as he survived the shipwreck in which Leda’s brother died, and Yusuf Kama’s misguided belief that he must kill Credence to fulfill the unbreakable vow he made to his father are entangled pieces of information, only explained ambiguously through a series of flashbacks showing the Lestrange family.
Adding another layer to the sense of confusion, the film ends in a dissonance from the original Harry Potter series. Grindelwald reveals that Credence is Dumbledore’s long lost brother “Aurealis”. Emphasizing the importance of the scene, what has previously been thought to be a crow chick transforms into a phoenix, appearing to confirm Credence’s newfound identity. This is because phoenixes are associated with the Dumbledore family.
The reveal of Credence’s identity would have been satisfactory, if not for the contradictions to the original Harry Potter series, where no such character is known to exist. In the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore was revealed to have two siblings. Ariana was his sister, who died as a teenager, and Aberforth, his brother. The existence of another child in the Dumbledore family is impossible when considering the timeline of events that led to the demise of the family. Dumbledore’s father was held in Azkaban prison up until his death. A few years later, Dumbledore’s mother was killed by an accident in which Ariana was unable to control her magic. After Ariana’s death (she was accidently killed in a duel involving Grindelwald, Dumbledore, and Aberforth), Dumbledore and Aberforth are the sole survivors of the family. The implausibility of Credence’s identity as a Dumbledore therefore suggests that Grindelwald manipulated Credence in order win him over to his side. The ambiguous ending of the film leaves much room for speculation as to Credence’s identity and the fate of the characters in the next film, in which hopefully the plot will be more clearly outlined.