EDITOR’S NOTE: This post contains many spoilers involving major characters and plot points in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opened this weekend to mixed reviews and $62 million at the domestic box office, a slightly lower haul than the first film debuted to in 2016.
If you haven’t yet seen the latest prequel set in the wizarding world of the Harry Potter novels, you’ll probably want to stop reading now. There will be no #ProtectTheSecrets going on here. While there is much to enjoy about the movie, I’ve got a bone to pick with it, and this requires a detailed discussion of several plot points involving a major, beloved character.
ONE LAST WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
As I was saying, The Crimes of Grindelwald hasn’t received what you’d call glowing reviews (last time I checked, it was at 40% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes), but most of the fans I’ve heard from have been gushing ecstatically over it. My reaction to the film is somewhere in the middle.
There’s a lot to appreciate about The Crimes of Grindelwald, which plunges us back into the wizarding world of the 1920s, where noble, socially awkward Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is caught up in the fight to stop a fascist dark wizard from seizing power and enslaving (or worse) all of Muggle-kind.
As was the case with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s a total thrill to explore a darker, more adult Harry Potter story where the stakes are nerve-rackingly high, complete with brave Aurors and ruthless villains, scrumptious vintage fashion, exciting feats of magic and spell-casting and, of course, adorable and awe-inspiring magical beasts, all brought to life via stellar visual effects.
The Crimes of Grindelwald ties more directly to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is fun, especially as familiar characters reappear and more connections are drawn between this new saga and the original. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy returning, however briefly, to Hogwarts, even if it is the Hogwarts of an earlier era.
(A shiver ran down my spine when John Williams’ twinkly theme kicked in. I’ve never desired a prequel set at the British school of witchcraft and wizardry, but I’m realizing I may be more open to it than I thought.)
I also happen to adore Jude Law’s take on Dumbledore. Yes, he’s pretty “sexy,” rocking those tweed vests, but more importantly, the actor captures that blend of omnipotent benevolence, playful charm, and melancholy that make the character so endearing. I find myself with a renewed appreciation for one of Rowling’s best creations.
I’m not as big a fan of Johnny Depp’s performance as the supposedly charismatic Grindelwald. I freely admit I could be biased by my feelings about that whole domestic violence situation, as well as some of Depp’s more bizarre recent interviews, but I’m not buying this washed-up actor with the faux British accent and the leather pants really possesses the rock-star level charm required to sway thousands of wizards to his genocidal cause.
COG has other flaws as well, including an emphasis on plotty, endless discussion of prophecies, family secrets, and family trees, at the expense of those intimate character moments we’ve come to crave and expect from Rowling’s pen.
I don’t know if it’s bad editing or a half-baked script, but the film often feels like it’s drowning in plot holes, questions left unanswered, and small developments that don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps all will be resolved in the next (I shudder a bit as a type the number) three installments?
What I find absolutely unforgivable about COG, however, is the indignities Rowling’s screenplay inflicts upon one of my favorite characters from “Fantastic Beasts.”
Played by Alison Sudol with an irresistible blend of blonde Brooklyn bombshell moxie and sweet vulnerability, Queenie Goldstein is a Legilimens (she can see inside other wizard and witch’s minds) who looks and sounds a lot like Marilyn Monroe, has a killer fashion sense, and a knack for cooking.
In “Fantastic Beasts,” she teams up to save the day with her Auror sister, Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt, and the Muggle baker who eventually becomes her love interest, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
Unapologetically feminine and keenly aware of her power over men, Queenie could have easily been a vapid stereotype. Instead, she proves herself shrewd and clever, using her femininity against those who underestimate her because of the way she looks.
(Remember in “Fantastic Beasts” when she gets stopped on her way to rescue Tina and Newt at MACUSA headquarters and terrifies the guy who dares question her with the mere suggestion that there might be ladies underthings in her suitcase?)
On many occasions, Queenie demonstrates her strength, street smarts, bravery, and loyalty, saving her friends, keeping cool under pressure, and jumping in to help without asking for an explanation. It’s true that Queenie is a romantic, but that never makes her weak or silly.
Her relationship with Jacob is the heart of the film, but in the end, she musters the selfless courage to magically wipe his memories of their time together because she knows it’s what’s best for him.
After that heartbreaking kiss in the rain, we all hoped the obliviate spell wouldn’t be the end of Jacob and Queenie’s story, so when we see first see the couple in COG, back together and seemingly happy, it’s a welcome sight.
The pair have traveled together to find Tina in Paris. They bump into Newt instead, but we quickly realize something isn’t right. Queenie has placed an enchantment on Jacob because he refuses to marry her, worried that such an illegal union would result only in suffering. When Newt presses Queenie about this, she reluctantly lifts the spell. She and Jacob quarrel, and she runs off into the night.
While it’s understandable Queenie would be distressed because she can’t have the “normal” life with Jacob she desires, it seems strange she would take such an extreme and manipulative step to maintain the charade of domestic bliss.
Her behavior only grows more bizarre and out of character as the film progresses. After visiting the French Ministry of Magic, where she timidly inquires after Tina, only to be informed her sister doesn’t work there, Queenie has a straight-up hysterical meltdown in the middle of a rainy, crowded street.
She’s subsequently lured to Grindelwald’s stolen apartment by one of his co-conspirators, where she briefly recovers her senses, refusing to drink their suspicious tea and making a quick getaway.
After that, though, her character dissolves into an unrecognizable haze of irrational, lovesick, naïve behavior, which culminates with her dragging Jacob to Grindelwald’s Nazi rally, lured by the evil wizard’s promise of freedom to love who she pleases.
In the film’s climactic moments, she shockingly chooses allegiance to Grindelwald over Tina, Jacob, and Newt — the people she loves the most — an act of blind betrayal that would have been unthinkable in “Fantastic Beasts.”
Marriage-crazed to the point of manipulation and pathetic desperation, hysterical, incapable of taking care of herself, blinded by love, and easily preyed upon, Queenie becomes the embodiment of some of the worst stereotypes attributed to women. Pardon me if I find this unbearable.
The fact that the character has the ability to divine others’ thoughts and true feelings makes her behavior all the more frustrating. She should be able to see the horrifying ulterior motives in Grindelwald’s mind. She, above anyone, should sense the hatred roiling from within his followers.
I suppose it’s possible Grindelwald has put Queenie under some kind of powerful enchantment that leads her to betray herself and those she loves — even Jacob. If that’s the case, the film in no way makes it explicit.
Perhaps in the next movie, Queenie will redeem herself by playing a role in Grindelwald’s downfall, working from the inside, but I don’t see how this could ever repair the damage to the character that’s already been done.
(I can also think of much better, more sensible, less troubling ways of moving Queenie into Grindelwald’s inner circle, if the plot of future films hinged upon this development.)
To be honest, the other women in COG don’t fare much better than Queenie. Claudia Kim’s Nagini is virtually voiceless. Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange is killed off just as she’s becoming complex and interesting. Even brainy and impulsive Tina is given disappointingly short shrift.
Like all Harry Potter fans, I’m a huge admirer of Rowling’s ability to craft memorable, sharply defined characters who feel as if they could step right off the page or screen and begin to live and breathe.
Frankly, I don’t know what the author was thinking when she sent Queenie down a path that betrays everything the character represented in “Fantastic Beasts.”
My hopes for Queenie were so much higher.
Photos: Warner Bros.