J. K. Rowling might be a Trump-hating liberal, but there’s no denying she knows her craft.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” serves up both weak spots and PC talking points. The film, under performing stateside but drawing healthy box office overseas, also offers conservatives plenty of reasons to cheer.
Warning: Light Spoilers Ahead
The wizarding world Rowling has built is expanding further into the past and across several nations in the new “Fantastic Beasts” film. The franchise centers on Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard who collects magical beasts.
“Grindelwald” starts with Newt being offered a job in exchange for the lift on his international travel ban. That came as result from the previous film in the series. Now, he’s asked to assist his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), an auror, capture Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller).
Credence is the only man that the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) believes can kill his equal and rival, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Newt initially refuses, but upon learning his romantic interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), has gone to Paris to find Credence, Newt packs up his magical animal care case and heads out with Jacob (Dan Folger), his muggle friend in love with Queenie, Tina’s sister (Alison Sudol).
Once they get there, Grindelwald and his minions work to advance his cause, starting with the search for Credence and gathering support of the pureblood wizards.
Here are four reasons why those on the right will appreciate “Crimes of Grindelwald” …
The Reality of Good and Evil
Grindelwald is clearly the new film’s villain. He quickly escapes from captivity en route from America to Europe to pay for his crimes. He and his supporters kill without consideration. When Grindelwald arrives in Paris, Grindelwald and co. mercilessly dispatch an entire family—including a toddler—with the killing curse.
Grindelwald wants the wizards to rule the world, openly.
On the other side, the Ministry is determined to bring Grindelwald down as he collects more wizarding support for his vision. They have an interest in keeping the wizarding world a secret from the non-magical communities. They seek the assistance of Albus Dumbledore, the great wizard who is Grindelwald’s only equal.
He refuses, having made a blood pact with Grindelwald when they were younger and close friends. But Dumbledore, despite his inability to fight Grindelwald, does not ignore him. Instead, Dumbledore seeks out assistance from Newt, and others, to help find a way to stop him.
It’s interesting in the original Harry Potter series, one of Harry’s antagonists declares that “There is no such thing as good and evil, there is only power, and those who would seek it.”
In contrast, Dumbledore says that Newt himself is unique in that he’s never been compelled to seek after power. Instead, Newt is after something much more valuable – the truth. It’s why the movie also demonstrates my next point:
Choosing a Side Is Necessary, and People Choose for Different, and Understandable, Reasons
Newt is known for never choosing a side. He is content to keep his animals and catalogue them, in hopes of writing his book, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Throughout the movie, several interactions show that this is not entirely the case; Newt wants to find Tina to protect her, and he is loyal to Dumbledore as a friend.
Our hero is not a political ally or a government stooge.
Even in the flashbacks to his school days with Leta as his friend, Newt is seen as someone who sees people, and animals, as creatures to understand.
Newt fights for his friends. But things are not always so easy, as his friends have different opinions and make different choices. Grindelwald convinces Queenie to join his side, as he promises her that she will be able to marry Jacob (as a muggle, it is forbidden for her, a witch, to marry him), under his rule. He talks of freeing the wizarding world from the burden of their secrecy, their shame.
Where Grindelwald’s words of hope and change fail to bring people to his side, he uses powerful threats and deadly magic. During the last battle, threats do win him some supporters, and several aurors are killed because of their opposition to him. When Leta sacrifices herself in order to save Newt and the others, Newt realizes he has to take a side.
Leta’s story is not only a catalyst for Newt’s decision to oppose Grindelwald, but her story also leads into the next point.
Bad Things Happen When Families (and People) Are Broken
Credence Barebone is thought to be Leta’s long-lost younger brother, but Grindelwald actually believes him to be Dumbledore’s hidden younger brother. Leta’s half-brother Yusuf meets with Tina earlier in the film, looking for Credence, since he has made an unbreakable vow to destroy Credence, his paternal step brother.
The broken history of their family – a Senegalese family torn apart by Leta’s father’s lust for a married woman, and his indifference to his own son – leads to Leta’s pain as an outcast in Hogwarts.
Credence’s confusion as to who he is and where he comes from, and Yusuf’s ultimately needless quest to avenge his family.
Conservatives will appreciate the message that when fathers aren’t there for their children, when families suffer at the hands of evildoers, and when fundamental needs for each person – such as the certainty of identity – are neglected, things can go terribly wrong. It’s a cycle that cannot be easily rectified.
Things Are Not Always What They Seem
Newt’s kindness, and his desire to understand animals and people, remains consistent throughout the story. That is why his knowledge and expertise provide critical relief and assistance at turning points in the film, whether it is understanding Dumbledore’s inability to fight Grindelwald, seeing who Leta is for her own self rather than what has been said about her, and taming various animals and using their special talents to overcome evil.
All of these themes, so fundamental to the right’s worldview, will resonate with viewers throughout the movie.
Yes, the film has some some noticeable flaws.
There were several nods to the original Harry Potter series, including the introduction of Nagini, who will one day become Lord Voldemort’s snake caretaker and horcrux (a very beautiful and sympathetic portrayal of the character by Claudia Kim).
Consider the appearance of Nicholas Flamel, an alchemist mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and plenty of foreshadowing for Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix.
There are also several tie-ins with history, from the sinking of the Titanic to the atomic bomb (a bit of a stretch, but as an author I know the temptation to be clever can be relentlessly overwhelming).
While it was in service to the fans, these did take time and not all of them were seamless in the script, which tended to be a bit lacking and too subtle at times. There are a lot of characters to keep track of for a two-hour film. But overall, the best thing about Rowling’s work has always been the focus on the universal truths of reality, even as they play out in fantastical ways (and bump heads with her own ideology).
C. S. Johnson is the author of several young adult novels in a variety of genres. If you like magic and alternative history, check out her latest novel, “One Flew Through the Dragon Heart,” now available for preorder. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at Johnson’s official Web site.