My last post on why Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a necessary prequel to Harry Potter is here.
I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I loved fantastically kind, funny and sweet Newt even more. He’s a hero unlike any other. The very best! When was the last time we had a protagonist whose main badass super power was kindness? And just look at that face!
Sure, Captain America is the quintessential boy scout, but to be one, he has to be large and beefy. Iron Man and Sherlock are wicked smart but also wickedly callous and inept at being plain nice. Hilarious characters, terrible people. There’s no doubt that Newt is a powerful wizard, his ability to feel doesn’t hinder his skill, unlike what popular media would have you believe and that’s what I loved about Newt in the first movie. He was strange, he loved animals and he was completely assured and unapologetic about who he was.
In the Crimes of Grindelwald however, everyone, including Newt, was a bit of a letdown unfortunately.
First, the story focusses on Grindelwald. The story begins with a prison transfer. We are helpfully told that because his words are so intoxicating, they “removed” his tongue. Ouch.
The way in which he is transferred between prisons from America to France though is frankly ridiculous. It’s a dark and stormy night, there’s a wooden carriage being pulled by thestrals, his vanguard and rearguard consist of presumably highly skilled aurors. However, he has managed to talk his jailer into betraying the MACUSA and has somehow switched places with him, and hitches a ride on the bottom of the said wooden carriage for some reason, perhaps to retrieve the blood oath that he made with Dumbledore, but mostly to throw off the audience.
Why is the security in the magical world so lax and terrible? Why are Harry, Ron and Hermione, students who haven’t even completed their NEWTs able to break into both the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts?
And now this. They’re moving the most dangerous Dark Wizard of their time to a different continent, wasn’t there a better way to do it than by carriage on a rainy night? Excellent security MACUSA.
Anyway, since the series is really about fleshing out Dumbledore’s backstory, what do we know so far?
First, Dumbledore as Jude Law is obviously ridiculously handsome. He’s supposed to be in his forties, being born in 1881, and I think looks his age, though Grindelwald, only a few years older, looks like a terribly old man in comparison. I really wish they had cast a more nuanced actor to play Grindelwald so we might understand what about him attracted Dumbledore to him so much, not just his supposed silver-tongue (that we are told about, not shown).
The last we knew of the Dumbledore family was that Albus was the brilliant one, similar to his mother Kendra. His brother Aberforth has a thing for goats and is close to his sister Ariana. Their father Percival dies in Azkaban after he’s sent there for killing the Muggle boys who assaulted his daughter causing her to internalize her magic because of the trauma and presumably become an Obscurial. After his 7th year at Hogwarts, Albus and Elphias Doge were supposed to go to on the world tour as tradition dictated for recent Hogwarts graduates, but Ariana caused an accident which killed Kendra. This was perhaps Ariana “exploding” as Credence did in Fantastic Beasts, leaving a wave of destruction in his wake.
So Albus has to forgo his journey to return home urgently to conduct his mother’s funeral and care for his sister while Aberforth, who had wanted to become Ariana’s caretaker, finished school. Being brilliant and ambitious as he was, Albus was terribly bored caring for his sister. Lo, along came Gellert Grindelwald, the brilliant nephew of their neighbour, Bathilda Bagshot, and Albus took an immense liking to the other boy. Both highly intelligent and ambitious, they wanted to fix all the problems of the world, help the muggles who were just killing each other (Europe was fighting the World Wars in the muggle world) and Ariana, who was critical to their success, didn’t have to be in hiding any more!
Just as they were about to set off to fix the world, and if they had to smash a few institutions along the way, why they would have done it for the greater good, Aberforth caught wind of their plans. Simple as he was, he didn’t care about the world or its problems or his brother’s ambitions, the poor boy only cared about his sister and wanted her to be safe and happy.
Aberforth confronts Albus and Gellert, a fight breaks out, Ariana gets increasingly disturbed and is accidentally killed in the ensuing tussle. Grindelwald flees and the Dumbledore boys are left to clean up afterwards.
Years later, they are the Headmaster of Hogwarts and owner of the Hog’s Head respectively, and seem to have an uneasy relationship, with Aberforth never forgiving Albus for what he did, nor Albus forgiving himself for being so enchanted by a boy he loved. It’s quite poignant really when years later, Dumbledore still believes in the most powerful magic of them all: Love.
But between the time Ariana is killed and Dumbledore meets Harry, Grindelwald is still at large and the Ministry of Magic is asking Dumbledore to help defeat him, though Dumbledore says that he cannot. In the books, the suggestion seems to be that Dumbledore can’t emotionally bear to confront Grindelwald, but the movie gives us a different explanation: A blood pact. What is that? Presumably something less severe than An Unforgivable Vow but meant for people who love each other, similar to the muggle version?
So Dumbledore cannot move against Grindelwald and he fobs off the Ministry kindly. But he’s Dumbledore of course. As a precursor to his well-laid plans, reminiscent of a spider’s web to defeat Voldemort, he’s moving against Grindelwald too. The unfortunate truth of his life is that both times he’s had to defeat men who he’s cared about – an old friend and a potential protégé.
Enter Newt. He’s just a kind boy travelling around the world looking after any hurt and abandoned animals and humans that he meets. He’s also been unlucky in love, having been expelled for taking the blame for his best friend and first love Leta Lestrange’s misdeeds only to find that years later she’s engaged to his brother. He’s also uninterested in taking sides in the battle lines that are getting drawn in the Wizarding World, as those who support Grindelwald’s resistance and uprising and those who oppose it. It’s an interesting contrast with the Harry Potter story arc, where at the end, it’s the establishment that’s on Voldemort’s side and it’s Harry who is the resistance.
Dumbledore seems to recruit Newt precisely because he cares about people and doesn’t care about politics.
Newt is finally convinced to go to Paris because Credence is there. Credence seems to be afflicted with what would be muggle mental health issues, and is depressed and lonely. Newt cares about him and wants to help him, while others seem to either be afraid of him because he’s an Obscurial or use him as a pawn in their games. Grindelwald seems to be particularly interested in Credence because he lost the opportunity to have an Obscurial on his side with the death of Ariana.
Tina is also tracking down Credence and is annoyed with Newt, whom she thinks is engaged to Leta. Jacob is under the spell of Queenie’s love potion (which is a cute nod to our general assumptions of “witchcraft”) because she wants to marry him illegally while he doesn’t want to endanger her.
Credence is hiding in a circus and falls in love with Nagini. She’s a Maledictus who turns into a snake and will eventually stop being able to transform and live out her days as a snake instead. The big *gasp* moment is of course that she’s Voldemort’s snake! What’s her story? It promises to be fascinating!
Credence is tracked down in a confusing set of events. The climax of this movie was great story-wise but the screenplay was all over the place. I think Rowling wrote a better movie script for the first movie and basically wrote a book for the second. Leta has a giant monologue (read: information dump expositional dialogue) where she reveals a lot of information, but since this isn’t a book, we haven’t really had the chance to know her or care about her enough to be shocked by her revelations. The bottomline is that Credence is not a Lestrange, and the biggest reveal of this movie is that… he’s a Dumbledore.
Grindelwald also manages to talk a bunch of wizards and witches into joining him, including Queenie, much to the chagrin of Jacob, Tina and Newt. Leta pretends to join him as well so that the Scamander brothers and their friends can escape. I missed this in the movie, but turns out her sacrifice was not for nought: she did destroy Grindelwald’s Seer skull, that I didn’t even notice!
A cool moment that I wish hadn’t been revealed in the trailer, was that Newt meets Nicolas Flamel, who helps them contain the fire that Grindelwald unleashes on Paris. This is a truly spectacular moment, and is so satisfying to see adult wizards and witches perform really powerful magic.
The minor victory is that Newt manages to steal the blood pact from Grindelwald and return it to Albus (there are too many Dumbledores in this story!). Albus maybe finds a way to destroy it so that he can defeat Grindelwald in the epic battle promised later in the series and immortalized on a chocolate frog in Philosopher’s Stone.