Crimes of Grindelwald and the future of the Potterverse

Published

Credit: Jaap Buitendijk / Warner Bros Studios

Georgina Hayes
Editor

Be warned: this article contains major spoilers for The Crimes of Grindelwald alongside an essay-length rant on the entire future of the Potterverse.

To save yourself the effort of reading the entire thing, I have this to say first, foremost and finally: a narrative where cutesy magical creatures are looked after by a cutesy protagonist does not belong in the same movie as a narrative where a revolutionary dark wizard with a complicated cause has his tongue cut out by the authorities. They could and should be successful in their own right, but not shoehorned into the same series.

I need to start by saying that I’m a die-hard, Ravenclaw pyjama-wearing Harry Potter fan that simultaneously accepts criticism of both the series itself and its author. Most importantly, I agree that JK Rowling has immensely let down the entire Potter legacy in her defence of casting Johnny Depp as Grindelwald – the whole casting mess seems to massively contradict the entire message of the series.

I also didn’t particularly enjoy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and felt disappointed that this was the area of the universe Rowling chose to give us a greater look into. I understand that it’s objectively a good film – it was well-acted, well-directed, and for many a fun addition to the Potterverse. For me, it was a bit too light-hearted and the characters weren’t particularly interesting or compelling enough to warrant a five movie-strong franchise. It felt like a waste of expansion to tell the story of Newt Scamander when we could have got a dramatised version of the founding of Hogwarts, or Voldemort’s rise to power and fight against the first Order of the Phoenix.

Still, when I found out that Grindelwald and young Dumbledore would feature in the Fantastic Beasts series, I was initially ecstatic – Grindelwald’s entire character has always remained endlessly intriguing and enigmatic, and the possibility of finding out more about his “crimes” was exciting.

That excitement quickly dispelled, though, when I realised that these five “Wizarding World” films would not be separate entities each focusing on a specific part of Potter lore. Instead, the “Fantastic Beasts” name – and its bundle of relatively uninteresting characters – would persist in each film, merging them together in a way that goes far beyond simply sharing a fictional universe.

Therein lies the problem with The Crimes of Grindelwald as a film. What it did well it did brilliantly, but what it did badly it did awfully. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why, either: Rowling has attempted to merge two completely incompatible character arcs and narratives into the same directly-related series. A shared universe does not, and should not, require this.

First of all, Grindelwald is too good of a character and too interesting a villain to be shoehorned into the Fantastic Beasts series. It’s unclear how the timeline of the next three movies will play out regarding Grindelwald, but I’m with the majority of Potter fans when I say that anything short of an entire film dedicated to Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s history will not do. Not only would this give Rowling the (much-needed) opportunity to diversify the series by exploring Dumbledore (and Grindelwald’s) sexuality, but it would also give screentime to one of the most fascinating subplots in Potter lore. We want to see young Dumbledore choose his path; we want to see the dynamic between two of the most powerful wizards of all time; and we want to see the building of their bond and its subsequent disintegration.

Something the film did masterfully was showing-middle aged Dumbledore stare into the Mirror of Erised and see younger versions of himself and Grindelwald; I was pleasantly surprised by the boldness of this scene, and the genuine sadness and longing it conveyed. We need more of it, though. The fact that the most powerful “good” wizard of all time was once a comrade of, and in love with, one of the most powerful “dark” wizards is one of the most compelling and fascinating details of the Potter lore, and shoehorning that relationship into a series carried by an uncharismatic lead (Newt) with a preoccupation for on-the-nose shots of cutesy magical creatures feels silly. There’s plenty of areas to expand upon within the Potterverse – just give Grindelwald and Dumbledore their own! Grindelwald and Newt’s stories just don’t belong in the same overlapping series; it’s like watching Philosopher’s Stone back-to-back with Deathly Hallows Part 2.

But this goes beyond just Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship. Grindelwald is far too interesting and far too adult an anti-hero to have to share his story with the Fantastic Beasts name. Grindelwald is an Anakin Skywalker-type character: he didn’t begin as inherently evil, and his reasons for turning to the “dark side” aren’t unsympathetic either – we want to see more of it!

What’s most compelling about Grindelwald is that his cause is sympathetic, much unlike Voldemort. Grindelwald is driven by his self-declared cause of “the greater good”, and who can really blame him for pointing out that an entire group of people shouldn’t have to hide for fear of persecution? He rightly points to the arrogance and destructiveness of Muggles, and makes the case for a more peaceful world led by wizards. His message is seductive, and not necessarily borne out of arrogance or personal gain as with Voldemort – he’s an “ends justify the means” kind of guy, and his end goal is quite desirable. If we found ourselves in that scene at the end of the film where Grindelwald asks people to join him, and we hadn’t the luxury of knowing just how far he takes it in future years, who can really say they wouldn’t consider joining him?

Forcing Newt and Grindelwald’s stories to interlap causes another issue with the film that many critics have rightly pointed out: there’s just too many characters. Thanks to a preoccupation with Newt, Jacob and Tina’s adventures (I’ll get onto Queenie), Grindelwald and Dumbledore as characters are totally under-utilised. Potter lore makes it clear that the relationship – and subsequent battle between – these two characters is key, so why is Newt Scamander suddenly thrown into the mix? Instead of making the most of a charismatic and animated performance from Jude Law as young Dumbledore, he barely had five minutes of screentime. In the same vein, Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange deserved far more than a thrown-in arc that was mostly defined by the men in her life. What else can we expect from a series desperately trying to merge two competing narratives into one, though?

What the film did well, though, was Queenie’s arc. Her joining Grindelwald make total sense, and I don’t think any level-headed viewer could blame her. It’s also offered up a myriad of possibilities for her character that could allow her to transcend beyond the temptation Rowling often has to make her characters too “good” or too “bad” – perhaps Queenie is a good person, with good intentions, that does bad things to get them? Means and ends are complicated, which is why Queenie and Grindelwald definitely do belong in the same film, because they exemplify that point perfectly. Mixed moral compasses is what Rowling does best when she does it right. Either way, more of Alison Sudol, please.

To me, the future of the Potterverse seems clear: fans obviously want more (the box office success of Crimes of Grindelwald shows that, especially when you consider its average reviews and controversial casting), but there isn’t unity on how we want it. I think most people aren’t against the idea of more books and films dedicated to the parts of the Potter universe we’re most interested in. The mistake Rowling has made – and it’s one that she can and must address – is that each expansion should be an entity of its own. The best thing about Harry Potter has always been its dedication to characters we know and love, as well as a high-stakes continuous plot. By trying to merge multiple points of expansion into one messy narrative, Rowling risks the Potterverse losing its magic.