“The Crimes of Grindelwald” takes us back in time to when plots were convoluted and racial stereotypes reigned supreme.
The film, directed by David Yates, acts as a sequel to 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts,” and is part of prequel series of films to the popular “Harry Potter” series. The film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the first film with the infamous criminal Gellert Grindelwald, dark wizard and Hitlerian metaphor, escaping from an American magical prison. The main character of the first film Newt Scamander, for the events of the first film, has been summoned to the British Ministry of Magic to discuss a lift on his personal travel ban in exchange for his service as an auror, a sort-of sorcerer secret agent. After a refusal at the behest of his brother Theseus, he is tasked by a young Albus Dumbledore with finding the prodigal child Credence Barebone, an unstable but powerful young wizard that Grindelwald is also hunting.
The cast is filled with some blockbuster actors as well as some green standouts. Scamander is portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, whereas his antithesis Grindelwald is portrayed by Johnny Depp. These casting choices ultimately make the film into a fun and thematically diverse movie. However, much like the Wizarding World shown in the film, not all is as it seems.
The film’s plot is centered on a large cast of characters that, as a whole, check all the boxes. You have your misunderstood hero in Newt Scamander. You have your diabolical yet charismatic villain in Grindelwald. You have the do-gooder in Theseus Scamander, and the lovable sidekick in Newt’s good friend, Jacob. If you notice an overtly male presence, you would be correct. Like many of J.K. Rowling’s works, she misses the point in having these fantastical, diverse settings and communities: they should be fantastical and diverse. The writing for the females in the film is entirely in service to their male counterparts, which one could make the argument that in the 1920s, women did have a lesser place in society and this should reflect that. However, J.K. Rowling writes the Wizarding World and she has the complete power to write it however she sees fit. The first female character we see is new and she is immediately played as a romantic tug-of-war between Newt and his more charming brother. She has no other character traits other than she shares a surname with Bellatrix Lestrange, crazed psychopath and follower of Voldemort.
The other big disservice that the film does to the Harry Potter reality is the entrance of a human version of Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. We find out in the film that she is actually a cursed human who at will and by night transforms into a snake and one day, will lose all remnants of her human self and turn into a snake forever. There are a couple of issues with the character of Nagini.
Firstly, Nagini serves the classic “dragon lady” archetype used in media to portray East Asian women as inherently mysterious for no reason other than they are from the East. Secondly, Nagini appears to have a neutral-good moral alignment, which conflicts directly with her portrayal in future films as the lapsnake of Voldemort. While we haven’t seen the entirety of her (which, in this film, is entirely subservient to the whims and stories of others), Nagini will one day become literally dehumanized and be in service to the magical Neo-Nazi Voldemort, which is just entirely cruel writing on Rowling’s part. The amount of cultural insensitivity in this film is alarming for Rowling as a continuing author and as a role model for many fans and writers.
The film suffers from the same syndrome that the Star Wars prequels did: they focus too much on connecting to future films while trying to make their own stories. The first film, “Fantastic Beasts,” did an OK job of establishing its place in Harry Potter canon but “Crimes of Grindelwald” just doesn’t continue that tradition. It tries too much to be referential without creating some substance within that content. “Crimes of Grindelwald” receives a 60 percent rating.