By Letty Nardone
This is an essay covering some of the lingering annoyances I have over the latest installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Spoilers are everywhere so please read at your risk!
McGonagall: The fandom is having a collective conniption over the cameo appearance of Prof McGonagall in the latest installment of Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald. The hysteria is over the fact that Prof McGonagall cannot possibly be teaching at Hogwarts in 1927. According to the Harry Potter Wikia, she was born in 1935. Possible explanations can be: the film producers are featuring a short cameo for the fans; the audience will love seeing her; they don’t care about the timeline; there’s no mention of her birth year in the books; the birth year has been deduced by the fans from the short facts that are provided from Pottermore. Even Pottermore doesn’t state a birth year, only the month and date. Or maybe it’s not really Minerva McGonagall; maybe she’s another professor with the same last name. I believe the film producers really wanted to have this through-back to the Potter books by having a short scene that doesn’t add or detract from the Fantastic Beasts storyline. Unless we see her in future films there could be plot problems. JK Rowling wrote this screenplay, which surprises me a great deal. I want to believe she always has strict rules for her characters and for the magical world they inhabit. If JK Rowling is disregarding her own rules (like when a character is born), then she’s throwing the fandom into a confusion spiral. Fans live for concocting crackpot theories. We talk endlessly about character motivations. We spend unusually long periods of time mulling over and contemplating storylines. WHY, then, cause the fans such angst for only 2 seconds of nostalgic joy at seeing McGonagall on screen in her younger days? Here is my biggest fear – Minerva McGonagall uses a time turner to travel back to 1927 to help Albus on that very day because he needed a substitute teacher.
Creedence/Aurelius: At the end of the movie, Grindelwald tells Creedence his actual identity: he is a secret Dumbledore. Gasp! I barely heard Johnny Depp’s sultry whisper. What? Dumbledore has a (secret) brother!? (and yet we still haven’t seen Aberforth – but that’s another essay).
What is the point of Creedence being a Dumbledore? Let’s explore the options: Creedence/Aurelius can “move against” Albus because there’s no “blood pact” between them. They can dual with one killing the other (and Grindelwald’s betting on Creedence to inflict the mortal curse.) We know that Grindelwald can’t do that because of the blood pact he made with Albus. But what if Grindelwald is lying to Creedence? What if this is a scam to get Creedence enraged which triggers his Obscurus. That magical creature that lives within him could certainly kill Albus or so Grindelwald believes. But HOW can Creedence be a secret Dumbledore? We need to reflect back on Percival Dumbledore. He was sent to Azkaban and reportedly died while in prison. HOW then could he have fathered Creedence? Hmm… Rita Skeeter never revealed another Dumbledore in her book The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. So, if it is impossible for Percival to have had another child is it then possible for Kendra Dumbledore to have had one more child (with another man…gasp…)presumably born after Arianna? But then that child would not have Dumbledore’s name. UNLESS Kendra named the child Aurelius Dumbledore to avoid town gossip (one can only imagine how the villagers in Godric’s Hollow talk.)
Nagini: Soooo… we learn that Nagini – Voldemort’s pet snake – has existed for quite some time. She’s a friend to Creedence providing emotional support. She’s been treated poorly by the circus owner. She seeks to help Creedence. She’s nothing more than another treat for the Potter fans. Nagini was the scary beast that ate poor Charity Burbage. We were trained to fear her. Now we’re supposed to sympathize. I find it difficult to have an emotional connection to her devised by the film producers. They did not give us much to learn about her aside from her use as a bizarre spectacle in the circus. This is another attempt to link the Potter universe to Fantastic Beasts. Giving us the backstory on these characters is great but it needs to be more fleshed out. This could happen in subsequent films since we know Nagini lives on.
Newt: Eddy Redmayne is superb as the brilliant magical zoologist. I love how he tilts his head, never looks you in the eye and even the tuft of red hair hovering over his eye. Here’s my one request: Please speak up. I lose half his dialogue because of the muttering. I get that he’s uncomfortable around humans. He’s practically beaming with joy when working with a magical beast. Eddy apparently needs to stay true to his character. I wonder if the producers would consider subtitles whenever he speaks?
Grindelwald: Johnny Depp has crafted another iconic character in his personal and unique style. I’ll admit I was enthusiastic when Depp was cast for FanBeast. At the time we didn’t know the part he would play. And now that we do the fandom is having a collective conniption (that never ends) over his role. I chalk it up to several reasons but one reason that stands out for me is what I like to call ‘Depp Fatigue’. He’s everywhere and it would have been refreshing for this movie to have chosen another big name actor. Since that did not happen (insert wish for Colin Farrell) we’ll have to proceed with what we have – Depp/Grindelwald. Depp does his job well in the last scene at the Lestrange mausoleum. His speech was persuasive and served the scene well. Aside from that one moment, there weren’t any more scenes I enjoyed or even understood what was going on. Depp has a fabulous way of interpreting a character’s speech rendering it incomprehensible. (ie: Captain Jack Sparrow) What’s in store for future films? Let’s speculate: Since this film is the second of five films it serves to introduce characters rather than move the plot along. The third film will most likely have a larger role for Creedence/Aurelius. I doubt we’ll see much of Grindy. Better to see what his followers are up to. There’s the famous 1945 Grin/Albus duel. Do we see this in film 5? Do we see the duel with young Albus, Gellert, and Aberforth that ended up with the death of Arianna? (Thankfully Depp can’t play young Gellert!)
Yusuf Kama: The only way I was able to understand the purpose of this character was to read the various online fan sites because his explanation in the movie was torturous. My mind was spinning with his backstory. The film producers were smart to have his story played out on screen because his monologue was mind-boggling: his mother being imperious, the unbreakable vow, that thing in his eye. Merlin’s pants! I’m exhausted. This character does not move the plot it only adds complications to an already complicated story.
Leta Lestrange: She’s a new character worthy of plenty of screen time. She’s mysterious. She’s flawed. She’s vulnerable. What is her purpose? Every popular movie needs the ‘femme fatale;’ the female lead adding necessary drama keeping the audience attentive. I appreciate she is more than a love interest to the Scamander brothers. She’s a link to their past that helps shape the people Newt and Theseus become. Her own story is critical to understanding Creedence and his beginnings. She is basically more important to further the stories of these guys than having a storyline of her own. I can forgive this because in the movie, telling the story has to focus on one main character – Newt. In a book, there can be several chapters about Leta and her terrible guilt over the baby switching, about the death of her mother, about her time at Hogwarts. The movie has to gloss over the most critical times of her life in quick flashback scenes. She deserves better treatment. I’d like to think we’ll see more of her in the next films. It is not clear if she survives the walk of fire – just what was that fire? Was it like the truth detector? I think she needs to survive in order to keep the Lestrange family name going.
Queenie/Tina: These two characters are reacting to their presumed betrayals: Jacob not wanting to marry Queenie and Tina finding out Newt is marrying Leta (which he’s not but she thinks he is.) There are better well thought out plot lines in soap operas. Queenie wants to have a married life with her sweet no-mag Jacob. He’s all for it but he knows marriage can’t happen under wizarding law. He’s being a hero. He’s being responsible. Queenie is acting weirdly erratic. So much so she decides to become a Grindelwald follower. Seriously? Really? I’m supposed to fall for this? Oh, come on…And then there’s Tina who believes the fake news story about Newt engaged to Leta. The Daily Prophet got that one wrong again. Really who believes them? You can only trust the Quibbler. So Tina instead of just ASKING Newt if the story is true, like the investigator she is, decides to believe it on face value. Ha! I thought Tina and Queenie were supposed to be the strong female characters setting role models examples like precursors to Hermione. That’s not what we get from them.
Albus: The best cast actor in the series – aside from Eddy Redmayne – is Jude Law. He’s perfect. I can’t detect the slightest flaw in his interpretation of young Dumbledore. At this stage in his life, Albus is teaching at Hogwarts; he’s not yet headmaster nor does he even have that ambition. He’s already lived through enough tragedy by now: the death of Arianna, falling out with Gellert, loss of both his parents. He lives a quiet life in Hogwarts after achieving so much as a young man. So what are we think at this point? He knows Grindelwald is up to no good (putting it mildly.) He’s the only one who truly understands him and who could devise a strategy of taking Grindelwald down. But he’s bound by the blood pact (not well defined in the movie) that keeps him from ‘moving against’ him. So Albus reaches out to Newt whom he believes could help. Why Newt? I suppose in further films we’ll find out.