The second of five Fantastic Beasts films has hit theaters, filling in gaps and corners of J.K. Rowling’s rebranded Wizarding World. But while the first outing charmed a fair number of viewers with Eddie Redmayne’s endearing turn as magical zoologist Newt Scamander (a portrayal that remains endearing throughout the sequel), The Crimes of Grindelwald fails to reproduce the fun of the original—and fills Rowling’s Potterverse with a slew of gaping holes.
These are the crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald.
[Below contains SPOILERS for the entirety of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.]
First, some spoiler space, because we’re going off on this immediately.
Oh hey here’s Dobby becoming a free elf. That was a great moment.
Alright. Let’s review some crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Crime #1: Queenie Goldstein Joins Wizard Fascism Because Jacob Won’t Marry Her?
Tina Goldstein’s sister, Queenie, shows up at Newt Scamander’s place at the start of the film to announce that she and Jacob Kowalski are getting married. Newt immediately notes that Queenie has placed a love enchantment on Jacob to force him to accompany her to London and agree to their engagement. He takes the enchantment off of Jacob, who proceeds to tell Queenie that he doesn’t think they should get married, and this precipitates Queenie’s fall to wizard fascism.
Here’s Queenie’s arc as far as the film feels like explaining it to us; Jacob doesn’t want to get married because in the U.S. Queenie will be thrown in jail for marrying a No Maj; Jacob thinks the words “you’re crazy,” hurting Queenie’s feelings (remember, she can read thoughts), and she leaves; Queenie goes to the French Ministry to find her sister, but Tina’s not there; Queenie seems to have an anxiety attack at not being able to find her sister and hearing people’s thoughts as they pass her on the sidewalk; an agent of Grindelwald finds Queenie and takes her to their HQ; Grindelwald tells Queenie that he won’t hurt her, he just wants magic people to be free to live as they please; Queenie goes to his big meeting in the catacombs and Jacob finds her; she tells Jacob that they should just hear what Grindelwald has to say; after Grindelwald tells his followers his plan, he dismisses them to spread the word, and creates a ring of fire for true believers to walk through and join him; Queenie tells Jacob that they should join Grindelwald, but he emphatically disagrees; Queenie is broken-hearted, but joins Grindelwald alone.
Look, it reads as though there’s a subtle theme around gaslighting here, or that was the intention, at least—Jacob first thinks, then outright says to Queenie, “You’re crazy,” which is a common diatribe from abusers when they’re trying to discredit victims and gaslight them into believing that they can’t trust their own faculties. There’s just one (no, several, there are several) problems here; Queenie started this tale by drugging her boyfriend in order to force him to marry her against his will.
That’s not cute, or even forgivable because she meant well. (Intent isn’t magic, even in the wizarding world.) Queenie took Jacob’s autonomy away because she disagreed with his decision that they shouldn’t get married; since they could get caught and she could get jailed. The answer to this situation is to a) continue to try and talk it out, b) decide that you’ll stay with your partner even if they won’t marry you, c) break up with your partner because you want different things, or d) start work in earnest to change the laws in your country around marriage. Drugging your boyfriend with a love enchantment appears nowhere on this list because it’s fucking immoral. Jacob is right and Queenie is wrong, and the fact that this character, who has previously only been depicted as sweet and caring, takes this rejection as a good enough reason to throw her lot in with Grindelwald is neither believable, nor sympathetic.
It’s a discredit to a character who was easily one of the most lovable in the previous film, and smacks of Rowling simply trying to create conflict among all characters. If Queenie is with Grindelwald, that gives Tina a more potent, personal reason to join the fight. But there were better ways to do this, and without completely dismantling how subversive Queenie managed to be from the start.
Crime #2: Leta Lestrange’s Entire Plot Arc is Painful and Insulting to the Audience
Where to begin with this? Because this is the part of the film that breaks my heart, and it’s hurtful all the way around. We were introduced to Leta Lestrange in the last film, a black woman who—as we know from the Potter books—is part of a family of soon-to-be Death Eaters. Newt loved her, but she was engaged to his brother. There was drama here, and questions that needed answering. They were answered.
And the answer was to let the audience know that Leta Lestrange was the result of brainwashing and rape—her mother was literally Imperiused and kidnapped away from her black husband and son because a white man wanted her. Leta was bullied and abused at Hogwarts, never able to find a support system or feel any form of belonging. Leta then makes the choice to die for the Scamander brothers in order to save them from Grindelwald. Why? Why would you take your only black female lead and toss her into an abyss so that the Scamander brothers can feel sad? This film is content to let all of its women go so that the stories of men can be uplifted; Leta is gone, so Newt can bond again with his brother in shared grief; Queenie is gone, so Jacob is now available to aid Newt in every scheme and mission he has going forward.
There was a way to do this better, because the dynamics at work here could have served a larger scheme. Grindelwald believes that Leta will be eager to join him as an outcast, but to her, he’s just another white man who believes that he should possess anything he deems his own. She is too smart for that. She has suffered too much. In neglecting a larger part of Leta’s story, in refusing to show us more, and refusing to let her live, all of her potential is wasted. Here is a woman who has survived so much more than the majority of wizard-kind can fathom. And she disintegrated in magical fire because… because what? Because Theseus or Newt Scamander mattered more? Because they didn’t, frankly. Any woman who is keen to stand up to Albus Dumbledore’s willingness to turn a blind eye while students are tormented by their peers is a woman who I want to know better.
But for some unfathomable reason, Leta Lestrange was not deemed important enough to survive. And the movie is a wreck for her death. The only thing made less complex for her absence are Newt’s feelings for Tina Goldstein, as there’s no longer another person on earth who holds his heart. The filmmakers did wrong by their audience, and no amount of heroism going forward can fix the mistake.
Crime #3: Nagini’s Background is Ill-Considered and Underused
It was revealed in the lead up to the film that we would glean the background of Nagini, better known as Voldemort’s beloved snake pal and final horcrux of the Potter series. The reception of this piece of news was understandably negative overall, particularly for the realization that Nagini was not simply a powerful snake, but actually a Maledictus, a woman who is eventually trapped forever in a snake body. The problem is that the film is uninterested in answering any questions about Nagini, and what we do learn suggests that she would never be comfortable around someone like Voldemort (she is plainly nervous around pureblooded wizards, for one, which is a thing that Voldemort is super into). It is cruel to assign another woman of color to a position that guarantees her endless suffering, and that’s without ever even bringing Voldemort into the picture.
What’s worse is that Nagini only seems interested in the welfare of Credence Barebone throughout the film, as he’s the only person who ever seems to have been kind to her. As is, Nagini doesn’t belong in this narrative at all; she doesn’t contribute anything to the plot besides giving Credence someone to bounce off of. At the very least, she could have been given clear desires of her own, and a stake in the story, instead of trailing after someone else.
Crime #4: This Movie is So Damn Slow, Please, Please Just Make Something Happen
Very little actually happens in this film. It’s stuffed with things, with visuals and locations, to make you believe that things are happening. But they’re not. This movie never does in seconds what it can do in minutes. If you only considered the basic plot of the movie, it’s a miracle that it clocks in at more than 90 minutes. A film this long should be packed with so much more worldbuilding and character development. But it’s not. Even the dialogue pacing suffers for this. I found myself muttering at characters to talk faster, as all the obvious reveals were built up with unrelenting pauses that did nothing to increase tension so much as irritation.
Crime #5: Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald Suddenly Have a Blood Pact That Never Existed Before
Um, this is HUGE. And we really need to talk about how huge it is.
This alteration is a sizable retcon to the Potterverse that Rowling has seemingly chosen to ignore; at the end of the film, we find out that the commingled drops of Albus and Gellert’s blood that Grindelwald has been carrying around is a “blood pact” that they made in their youth to never fight each other. This pact is meant to be binding, as in, it’s the reason Dumbledore won’t fight his boyhood crush—he effectively can’t. There’s just a tiny problem with this:
Dumbledore and Grindelwald have already fought post-pact.
The last time Albus and Gellert saw one another was in the fight that resulted in the death of Ariana Dumbledore, Albus’s sister. There is no way that the two would have made a blood pact after that fight because Albus was completely distraught at the death of his sister, blaming himself for her loss for the rest of his life. This means that the blood pact occurred before Ariana’s death—but the fight that led to her demise was a three-way duel between Grindelwald, and Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore. So unless Rowling means to heavily retcon her own narrative (which she could disappointingly choose to do), Albus and Gellert have already dueled and this blood pact didn’t stop them.
Moreover, there’s only one reason to introduce this blood pact in the first place; it would seem that Rowling feels she needs to give a better reason as to why Albus avoided fighting Gellert for so many years. In the books, we know the reason why because he eventually tells Harry: He was afraid to face Grindelwald because it was a reminder of the death of his sister, a reminder that he might have dealt the killing blow, and fear that Grindelwald might be able to tell him if he’d truly done it. Subtextually, there’s another reason for Albus Dumbledore’s cowardice—he was in love with Grindelwald. Either of these reasons are not only understandable, they’re more compelling as character choices. The idea that Albus Dumbledore avoided his responsibility to stop one of the greatest fascists of the wizarding world out of fear and pain and love is far more interesting and frankly realistic than a ridiculous magical blood pact that never existed before.
But that’s what we’ve got to work with now. Hooray….
Crime #6: Albus Dumbledore Suddenly Has a Brother Who Never Existed Before
Credence Barebone has now been revealed as… Aurelius Dumbledore??? He has ostensibly been tending to the-phoenix-who-will-eventually-be-called-Fawkes for the entire film?
Folks, this is textbook bad retconning. Oh sure, there’s a secret Dumbledore brother that never existed before! That seems entirely plausible for us to never have heard about before even though a substantial portion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows explores the history of Albus Dumbledore!
Of course, there’s every chance that Credence Barebone isn’t who Grindelwald says he is. (If nothing else, he seems far too young to be the brother of a nearly fifty-year-old Albus Dumbledore.) But if that turns out to be the case, he’s still probably related to someone else important in the series, and that reveal will only be more aggravating—oh, he’s Grindelwald’s son! He’s Newt lost twin! He’s a distant relative of the Potters! Just… stop. Please stop. All of these ideas are bad ideas. Credence has enough going for him on his own. We don’t need this.
Crime #7: Either Professor McGonagall Isn’t Professor McGonagall, or We Have a Huge Timeline Error
There are two moments in the film set at Hogwarts (one set in 1927, one in flashback when Newt Scamander was at school), when we see a teacher with a familiar Scottish accent who is named “Professor McGonagall” by Dumbledore. There’s just one problem; Minerva McGonagall—Transfiguration teacher, head of Gryffindor House, and eventually Hogwarts Headmistress—wasn’t born until 1935. She didn’t begin teaching at the school until the 1950s.
Oh, but it could be a relative! Yeah, but not likely. McGonagall gets her surname from her father, who was a Muggle. And her father was completely against Minerva’s mother using magic (this is part of Minerva’s tragic backstory, which is part of the explanation as to why she never married, I kid you not), so it’s extremely unlikely that she ever worked at Hogwarts under her married name. This is a gigantic, sloppy error that could easily have been rectified if anyone had cared to pay attention. Unless this turns out to be some weird time travel ploy—unlikely given its lack of importance in the plot—this is just a big gaping hole of “whoops, we didn’t double-check something that was really easy to double-check.”
Crime #8: Rowling Doesn’t Seem to Understand the Difference Between a Novel and a Film
Some writers can write both novels and screenplays—some cannot, or cannot reliably. And while J.K. Rowling has certain strengths that play into screenwriting (memorable dialogue, gorgeous visuals, strong sense of characters), there is one problem she has never been able to solve. And that’s—
—INFODUMPING THE ANSWER TO AN ENTIRE STORY’S WORTH OF MYSTERY IN THE SPACE OF THREE MINUTES WORTH OF DIALOGUE.
It works so well in the Prisoner of Azkaban novel. It works great in other Potter novels. It is unintelligible here. We get to the crypt and Leta Lestrange gets into her entire backstory and it’s way too much information to parse in the space of a few minutes. And then it gets cut off to bring the film to a hasty conclusion. In a book, the reader can pause. They can read sections over. They can write bullet journal entires that help them map out the plot. A movie is not a book. A movie requires slower exposition, and greater care toward how information is doled out. That is not what happens here, and the film suffers for it.
Crime #9: Nicolas Flamel Doesn’t Need to Be Here
I get the impetus to show us characters who will eventually be incredibly important to the Potter series because we know them, and it’s fun to see them. But Nicolas Flamel is the plot equivalent of a doorstop in this film. He’s just an elder statesman who helps other people figure out what to do and where to go, and not even in an interesting way. It’s disappointing.
Crime #10: Johnny Depp Needs to Stop
It’s aggravating having to get into this because every time you bring up what Depp’s situation is, you arouse vitriol from anyone who refuses to believe that the Hollywood former Golden Weird Boy is capable of making a mistake. But it doesn’t change the fact that he was accused of abuse by his ex-wife Amber Heard, had to settle the case, and that anyone can find evidence and accounts online that show that Depp continues to have an abuse problem. Warner Brothers, Yates, and Rowling stood by him nonetheless; they didn’t need to. They could have easily recast the part as they did for Dumbledore himself after Richard Harris passed away. Having to watch Depp manipulate people as Grindelwald into believing that he’s a good man was a pretty disgusting (and unintentional in the filmmaker’s minds) meta-commentary that no one should have to sit through.
Emily Asher-Perrin also doesn’t understand why Grindelwald needed such an anachronistic haircut, but what can we do. You can bug him on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.