By, Teresa L. ’19, Emma S. ’19, and Lydia B. ’19
This article contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Read at your own risk if you have not already seen the film (and also note that we do recommend seeing it)!
The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up three months after 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which introduced audiences to Newt Scamander, a wizard and magizoologist who was only mentioned in the Harry Potter series as the author of one of Harry’s textbooks. In Fantastic Beasts, Scamander participates in the wizarding world’s struggle against Gellert Grindelwald, Voldemort’s predecessor as the resident dark wizard.
As dedicated Potter fans will know, Albus Dumbledore was ultimately the one who defeated Grindelwald, but they had a past as teenagers in which they planned to work together for the “greater good” (Grindelwald’s motto) and fell in love. In Crimes of Grindelwald, a young Albus Dumbledore (an awesome portrayal by Jude Law) finally appears, but the biggest Dumbledore-reveal comes at the end of the film. In a highly controversial twist, Credence Barebone, a character that was introduced in the first Fantastic Beasts, is revealed by Grindelwald to be Aurelius Dumbledore – Albus’ younger brother.
And that’s where the film really falls flat. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore explains his guilt over the death of his sister in a duel with Grindelwald and his younger brother Aberforth. Ariana’s death is a turning point for Dumbledore, and even though his relationship with his remaining sibling, Aberforth, is complicated, it’s clear in the original series that the event made him realize the importance of his family. That’s why it simply does not make sense for him to have another brother. There’s no reason why he would tell Harry about such a significant family moment and fail to mention another sibling.
“Part of the reason I think J.K. Rowling has received so much backlash is that in her retroactive attempts to change characters and their backstories, certain canonical details have been ignored or rewritten, creating various discrepancies throughout the film’s plot and within the broader Harry Potter universe,” commented Jamila O. ’19.
Of course, it’s possible that Albus doesn’t know about Aurelius. But it’s also important to note that the timeline established in the original series simply does not match up. Dumbledore’s father was imprisoned when Albus was around 10 and died a few years later. We know from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Albus was 115 in 1997. Credence was born in 1901 according to the most recent film – when Dumbledore was 19. Percival Dumbledore was not alive to father this so-called Aurelius, and a half-brother born to Albus’ mother Kendra would not be a Dumbledore.
It’s also possible that Grindelwald is lying. “There are five movies in this franchise,” said Kayla L. ’19. “I think that everything will sort itself out in the end; J.K. Rowling would not mess up her own story.” That may be true, and we certainly hope that that’s the case, but never before has one of the big cliffhangers of Harry Potter been a straight-up fabrication by one of the characters.
This is not the only example of what seems to be sloppy storytelling, which is especially disappointing coming from Rowling, who has been so careful and intricate in her detailing in the past. According to previous information, Minerva McGonagall was born in 1935; in Crimes, she’s already a professor at Hogwarts during a flashback that takes place years before 1927. In Crimes, Newt uses Accio to summon one of his Nifflers, but the spell is not supposed to work on living creatures.
These mistakes are small, and you may be thinking that they’re not really a big deal. But one of the best things about Harry Potter was that it felt so real and fully realized; even though Harry and his friends were casting spells and disappearing under Invisibility Cloaks, there was still an underpinning logic to the world – there were rules about what magic could and could not do, much like the laws of physics. Now, it feels like those rules don’t matter anymore.
The Crimes of Grindelwald also seems to cheapen some of the vital moral lessons from the Harry Potter series. The new movie introduces the concept of a “blood pact” between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which prevents them from fighting each other. The revelation feels unnecessary; Dumbledore’s reluctance to confront Grindelwald is more compelling when it is a choice, based on his fear of his own hunger for power rather than because of a magical obstacle.
“I think that the blood pact storyline falls flat and feels somewhat cheap in part because, in the years following the conclusion of the Harry Potter series, Rowing has revealed additional information about the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald,” said Jamila, “but the movie does not explore the depth or conflicting nature of this relationship in a significant way.”
Furthermore, Nagini, Voldemort’s snake and Horcrux, is revealed in Crimes to be a woman who eventually becomes trapped in snake form, a twist that feels a bit misguided; Dumbledore’s instructions for Harry to kill Nagini are cast in a new light after we learn that Dumbledore knew her as a human.
Nicholas Flamel, who is mentioned in the first Harry Potter book, appears in the movie as well, mainly as comic relief. While it’s funny to see him hobble around, this representation also undermines the crucial message provided by Flamel in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: that death is not always to be feared. It’s a lesson that is central to Harry’s experiences, and to see Flamel portrayed as a joke is disappointing.
J.K. Rowling is awesome. She’s a visionary author who spun an incredible tale that captured the imagination of the entire world. It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Harry Potter series on our childhoods, and for that series, we will always love Rowling. But that doesn’t stop us from being a bit disappointed in the most recent addition to the Potter universe.