Harry Potter took the world by storm in the early noughties and continues to enchant its audience to this day with its ever-evolving Wizarding World. Rowling added to the HP fanfare when she announced a new series which started with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2016, and more recently she revealed that the franchise will comprise of five films. Its latest addition, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was highly anticipated, though not necessarily for the right reasons; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was enjoyable – despite not living up to the adventures of Harry Potter – and in its ending pointed to its future instalments which would flesh out minor plotlines within the Potter series. But a myriad of controversies surrounding Gindelwald’s casting, and the coveted return to Hogwarts hinted to the franchise’s early decline.
The issue regarding the casting of Korean actress Claudia Kim as Nagini, who in the Harry Potter series serves as Voldemort’s pet snake, caused outrage from its announcement. Before the film premiered there was considerable backlash from fans and media surrounding the casting of an Asian woman to eventually become slave to a white man, setting a precedent for further instances of cultural and historical insensitivity which would become apparent throughout The Crimes of Grindelwald. The faux pas alienated a number of Rowling’s followers, the heroes once again being cast as, for the most part, white men. The lack of consideration for a diverse and international fanbase was a decision made in poor taste, and quite frankly is beneath Rowling as a writer. The storyline of Nagini as a ‘Maledictus’ – a human woman who can turn into a snake, but who will eventually lose the ability to transform back to her human self – could have been interesting, had it been developed and handled better. Had Rowling given Kim more than a meagre few lines in the two hours and fourteen minute picture, she could have potentially won back a little credibility for her own justification of the plot and casting. However, the almost silent victim of Nagini confirmed all suspicions and ignored the many possibilities her minor character had to become an empowered female, fighting against her captors, the patriarchy and ultimately the white male oppressors. In her attempt to use a form of mysticism deriving from Indonesian mythology, Rowling tethered what was assumed to be a leading Asian role within the series to claims of cultural appropriation, thus leaving a number of people seeking equal and adequate representation within her imaginary world. Rowling and the Fantastic Beasts team dealt a racially insensitive card, their gamble losing them respect from many of its former supporters due to the embarrassing attempt at representation.
It was clear that new technology allowed the filmmakers to create visually stunning elements, notably when the fantastic beasts themselves were introduced, such as the ‘Zouwu’. The scene in which magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) tames the wildly ferocious beasts with a toy provides a truly magical moment akin to Harry’s befriending of Buckbeak the Hippogriff in The Prisoner of Azkaban. It is the simple details which allowed the audience to feel most connected to the Wizarding World as they were reminded so fondly of previous instalments. The adventures of Newt, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and creatures such as Pickett the Bowtruckle, and Newt’s Nifflers bring wholesome moments of entertainment that are sadly dispersed among a badly reiterated version of Harry, Dumbledore and Voldemort’s story. Unfortunately, the amazingly rendered cute creatures could not compensate for the screenplay, which lacked the same level of development throughout the Harry Potter series.
Rowling’s plot itself was utterly ridiculous. Throughout, the film was packed full of twists and turns that weren’t given time to develop, leaving them to be hashed out in minutes towards its ending where a few of the plethora of loose ends were unsuccessfully tied up. The endless lists of inconsequential minor characters and the predictability of yet another long-lost family member created a mockery of the carefully crafted plotlines of Harry Potter. Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) now third secret sibling, Credence (Ezra Miller), turned Dumbledore’s rich and complex character into nothing but a farce. Cashing in on fans’ love of Dumbledore by trying to add layer upon layer onto his character is becoming too much, much like the dragging out of the Wizarding World itself. Strong performances from Redmayne, Fogler and Miller made The Crimes of Grindelwald bearable, but the promise of Rowling’s talent, and the misleading title providing nothing but a let down as Grindelwald (Johhny Depp) himself was for the most part a background character.
Fantastic Beasts was full of fantastical mishaps; the Hogwarts of Harry, Ron and Hermoine was destroyed back in 2011 in the culmination of the Potter series, despite the recent instalments acting as its prequel. A poorly written screenplay, which is itself a bastardised version of Harry Potter, suggests Rowling’s magic is spent. The predictability of the film’s mistakes was almost comical; the recycled story, the estranged family members, and a series of blunders among an industry criticised for its racial and gender controversies. In this instance, the filmmakers’ biggest mistake was their simple lack of tact, and their indulgence of Rowling’s tired ideas.
Rating: Two Stars