Imagine there’s a woman – white, liberal, wealthy, you know the type. She doesn’t pay much attention to politics, but she knows Hitler was bad – she even seems to understand some of the reasons why – and she despises Trump. She pays a great deal of attention to everything he does and holds him up as the pinnacle of all evil, even if she doesn’t seem to understand the full context. She has no problem with queer people at all – “Sleep with anyone who’ll have you! Introduce yourself however you like,” she says, without a hint of condescension, and she’s definitely not a racist. She has a whole list of reasons she can’t possibly be a racist – she carries them around, actually, she gets accused of antisemitism all the time, for some reason.
Now imagine this woman is in charge of making Harry Potter movies.
Berlin, 1932- The International Confederation of Wizards has been taken over by Gellert Grindelwald’s fascist acolytes. Government buildings have become blacksites, and the wide, empty streets resemble German Expressionist sets in which every shadow hides danger. Despite the prior film being titled The Crimes of Grindelwald, the dark wizard (Mads Mikkelsen) has been inexplicably cleared of all charges and is running for supreme mugwump. After 80ish minutes of unrelated hijinks that should have been cut, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) assembles a group to expose Grindelwald’s election fraud.
Mikkelsen is the Fantastic Beasts franchise’s third Grindelwald in as many installments. While Colin Farrell was always intending to only play the role once, Johnny Depp stepped down voluntarily after the second movie because he didn’t want the negative publicity surrounding him to distract from everyone else’s hard work.
A fascist in the purest sense, Grindelwald views history as a struggle between races. He has the gift of foresight, and as part of his platform, says the muggles will turn the terrible weapons of their next great war against the Wizarding World. To solve this problem, he advocates exterminating and enslaving them all. Where Farrell’s Grindelwald was a mastermind in disguise and Depp’s Grindelwald was a strongman who extolls the finer virtues of genocide publicly, Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald is the first to seduce his comrades. He speaks to them of their greatest strengths and the potential they could realize by his side, but the knowledge of his bigotry is a poison that coats his every word.
All of our colorful characters are back, because that’s what really matters here. Fan fiction is a huge part of “Harry Potter’s” ongoing prominence in media, and like many recurring series that don’t have a sense of direction, the instinct is to introduce a large cast of characters and hope they catch on in that community. The hope is that fans will build popularity on their own and guide the arc of the series by telling showrunners where they fanaticize the series and characters might go, who might pair with whom, the possible details of characters’ genders, that sort of thing – because straight, cisgender males are so heavily the default in mass media, fan fiction has always had a large appeal to the queer community as an avenue to insert queerness into their favorite stories, if unofficially. These are the people Fantastic Beasts’ broad array of characters, many of whom have very little to do but all of whom are vibrantly drawn from different backgrounds to spark different viewers’ imaginations, is meant to appeal to.
Eddie Redmayne is back as Newt Scamander, the shy cryptozoologist on whom Dumbledore relies heavily. Redmayne got the plum role cashing in on his Oscar fame, which came in part from his role in The Danish Girl as Lili Elbe, an early recipient of gender affirmation surgery. He consulted several trans people for the role, including Lilly and Lana Wachowski, his directors on Jupiter Ascending at the time he was cast, two of the most prominent trans women in Hollywood history. Redmayne was one of many actors associated with the “Harry Potter” franchise who spoke out in support of the trans community after screenwriter and series master J.K. Rowling released her cringey anti-trans manifesto in 2020, but also spoke against the backlash she faced in order to keep his job.
Scamander’s skills are, at long last, crucial to the plot, which revolves around a qilin, a magical creature from Chinese mythology that can look into a person’s soul and determine worthiness – the ICW uses qilin to determine its leader, and Grindelwald intends to enchant it in order to overturn the election. Lackluster performance in China is one of Fantastic Beasts’ major pain points, so instead of just using giant creatures, they’ve dipped into Chinese mythology for new beasts and set the climactic sequence in the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The Crimes of Grindelwald notably declined the opportunity to make Dumbledore’s romantic relationship with Grindelwald explicit for the first time, likely due to China’s history of censoring gay characters. The Secrets of Dumbledore corrects this in both directions, verbally confirming the relationship, but removing those lines for the Chinese release. Just trying to collect those paychecks.
The film plays out as a cringe-worthy recreation the 2020 and 2016 American presidential elections in which Trump faces consequences for his malfeasance and leadership is bestowed on Hillary Clinton as if by right, stood in for here by Vicência Santos (Maria Fernanda Cândido), a female candidate who says little. The third straight movie ends with Grindelwald, foiled and facing a mob of angry wizards after having just advocated for a global ethnic cleansing, shouting that he’ll get them all next time and their little qilins too.
Not everyone’s back. Katherine Waterston is almost completely absent in her role as Scamander’s love interest, Tina Goldstein. Waterston’s character was written out of The Secrets of Dumbledore after she took a firmer stance against Rowling – this isn’t confirmed, but the awkward hoops they jump through to justify her being gone tell the story. The movie stops at several moments to apologize to fans for her absence and also replaces her with Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), described as Scamander’s indispensable assistant of eight years despite having not yet appeared in the series. It feels like Waterston was a contractor, and her personally held beliefs were used as a reason not to renew her.
Ezra Miller, one of the most prominent nonbinary actors working right now, is back as Credence Barebone/Aurelius Dumbledore, a new name which he insists on being called by. Their character, whose magical ability was suppressed in a brutal Christian foster home, was introduced as an extended metaphor for the damage done by shaming and closeting. The entire Wizarding World functions as a metaphor for the queer community, this entire magical community in not-so-hidden corners, obvious to everyone who knows what to look for but to which outsiders remain oblivious. That’s a big part of the betrayal here, the obviousness with which the franchise has courted the queer community. Miller has kept their silence on Rowling, but they’ve got their own problems to deal with.
In-house director David Yates is back, and that’s wonderful. Since taking over the series starting with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, his desaturated palette, curt dialogue and exploratory camerawork, slowly drifting toward the next subject and frequently using rack focus to make the immediate world seem opaque and hostile, have come to define the mood of the series for me more than any other artist.
Also returning is Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who reverses her decision to join Grindelwald that made her character the center of controversy in the prior film. She’s welcomed back with open arms, and all is forgotten. In a movie obsessed with one aspect of Donald Trump’s misdeeds, it is a vision of speedy, painless forgiveness for people with different views. For some reason, I’ve had a much harder time forgiving fascists recently myself.
Protect trans children.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at email@example.com.