Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hasn’t been released yet, but already the latest entry in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is getting fans annoyed. What’s making the sequel so contentious?
The universe spawned around Harry Potter is something that many fans hold dear; across books, movies and much more besides, it has bred an impassioned fandom that have taken real ownership of the mythology. With such weight, it’s understandable that people won’t always agree with the decisions that Rowling makes for her characters and universe.
However, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald seems to have caused more divisions than ever. The latest entry ostensibly continues the Fantastic Beastsfranchise However, with the debut of Jude Law’s Dumbledore and a focus on the rise of Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard initially teased in the first book, it’s clear there will be bigger ramifications – and that’s creating problems. From casting choices to plotlines, there’s a lot of issues that are causing plenty of fervent discussion among moviegoers before they’ve even seen it.
THE CASTING OF JOHNNY DEPP AS GRINDELWALD
Without doubt, the most volatile issue surrounding Fantastic Beasts 2 is the decision to keep Johnny Depp in the central role of Gellert Grindelwald. Following accusations of abuse from ex-wife Amber Heard, Depp’s personal life has been the subject of many tabloid stories, with reported substance abuse just one of the many other issues plaguing the star. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe has long been a safe haven for many; a place where fans feel they find acceptance and the strength needed to tackle many past issues, including abuse. However, Rowling’s decision to stand by Depp and not to recast the role, has been a source of upset for many. The writer is adamant that her conscience is clear, and director David Yates stated that the Depp he knows is full of decency and kindness. Depp has stayed largely silent on the matter, other than to say he feels bad Rowling had to defend him.
With three more movies left in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Depp’s role is only going to get ever more prominent. Normally, recasting such a vital role in a franchise would be problematic, but it’s already been established that Grindelwald is happy to change his appearance. Indeed, that fact provides a replacement who’d be perfect; in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colin Farrell played Grindelwald in disguise as Percival Graves, to great acclaim. Many fans preferred Farrell even before Depp’s issues came to light, and Rowling and Yates’ refusal to put Farrell in the role is a bitter pill for many to swallow.
FANTASTIC BEASTS 2 IS AVOIDING DUMBLEDORE AND GRINDELWALD’S RELATIONSHIP
When J.K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay and had been in love with Grindelwald, fans praised her for including such a prominent LGBTQ character in the Harry Potter series. Even if Dumbledore’s sexuality had never actually been raised in the text itself, many identified with Dumbledore and appreciated the complex relationship he had in his youth with a man who would go on to become one of the darkest wizards of all time. When it was announced, then, that Jude Law would be playing the younger Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts 2, it was quickly assumed that we would be seeing the relationship between the two wizards played out on screen. Given that the two were no longer romantically involved during the Fantastic Beasts timeline, fans weren’t expecting to see happier, more loving moments, but given the significance that Rowling has always given to Grindelwald’s role in Dumbledore’s life, as his great love, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to hope for some flashbacks or some angst-filled scenes between Law and Depp.
However, that was shot down rather quickly: director David Yates stated The Crimes of Grindelwald would “not explicitly” reference their relationship, with it subsequently coming to life the two actors don’t even share the screen. While the love between the two men is hinted at – the trailers showed Grindelwald in the mirror of Erised when Dumbledore looks in it – from reviews it appears there’s no admission from either Dumbledore or Grindelwald, nor any kind of declaration of what happened in the past other than one line from Dumbledore, “We were closer than brothers.” For LGBTQ fans hoping for some kind of representation, it’s a pretty poor show. It’s 2018 and Harry Potter is supposed to be one of the most accepting and inclusive fandoms out there, yet Rowling seems to have some difficulty in reflecting that on screen.
NAGINI AS A HUMAN (AND MORE CANON ALTERATIONS)
When Claudia Kim joined the cast of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, her role that wasn’t immediately named. This indicated a mystery to be solved, and it didn’t take Potterheads long to put together the clues. Initial images for the movie put her close proximity to Credence (Ezra Miller), placing her in the Parisian circus portion of the film. Fans then worked out she would be playing a Maledictus, a witch with the ability to turn into an animal; in Kim’s case, as nake. Finally, it was confirmed: Kim is playing Nagini, the witch who will eventually go on to become one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes.
This is a strange reveal for a trailer, and speaks to a larger concern with Wizarding World canon; Rowling seems to be working hard to work as many Harry Potter connections into Fantastic Beasts as possible, rather than letting the franchise stand on its own. Added to that, is her insistence that this was always Nagini’s backstory; it’s a pretty complex backstory to weave (while presumably writing Harry Potter) for a snake whose only real significance was Voldemort hiding a piece of his soul in her.
The other, and most important issue people have with Kim’s casting is the decision to put an Asian actress in a subservient role, one which meets a brutal end, no less. Even though Nagini won’t be treated that way in this movie, what’s to come is still unsettling.
FANTASTIC BEASTS IS STILL FIVE MOVIES LONG
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Fantastic Beasts is that the franchise is now a five-movie arc. Originally mooted as a trilogy, the series was expanded around the time of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘s release, a move that was immediately deemed unnecessary by many.
Indeed, a major criticism of The Crimes of Grindelwald in early reviews is that it is continuing to set up the franchise, and as a result is too cluttered with too many storylines. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did a good enough job of establishing a new corner of the Potter world; a second movie should be where the plot really begins to develop and exciting events unfold. Had it been the middle movie of three, that could have been the case, but the fear is that Rowling and Yates have instead only continued the setup, introducing more characters and plot threads for the coming decade.
Even if the movie does hold together stronger than the early reactions suggest – Fantastic Beasts 2 is sure to play differently to fans than critics – the question of whether this undefined story (based on a short spinoff book, no less) needed ten hours to do so is unlikely to be addressed. Hopefully, what J.K. Rowling and David Yates have pulled off is good enough to weather the skepticism.