It is time, once again, to throw all caution and sense of self-preservation to the teeth of the gale.
In other words, I have decided to write about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first movie in the spin-off/prequel series to the Harry Potter movies.
Obviously, seeing as the movie is fairly new, there may be readers who haven’t seen it yet. So, if you don’t want the movie spoiled, you should probably stop reading right about here.
Now, first of all, the thing I should make clear about this movie is this: I liked it. It was a fine, enjoyable film. My issue, and subsequently this article, concerns just one thing. One part of this movie caught my nitpicky attention, because in my opinion, it was handled completely the wrong way!
That something being The reveal of Gellert Grindelwald.
A quick recap. At the end of the movie, the Obscurial has been destroyed by MACUSA. Percival Graves, who has attempted to track down the Obscurial, declares that the law against exposing the world of magic only exists to protect muggles, rather than wizards, and that he refuses to obey that law any longer. The President of MACUSA orders her Aurors to relieve Graves of his wand. When Graves attempts to leave, they raise a magic shield to stop him.
In response, Graves attacks the Aurors, while making his way towards the President herself, presumably to kill her.
This is where Newt releases one of his creatures, which catches Graves. He then casts a spell, which reveals Percival Graves as really being Gellert Grindelwald in disguise all along!
So, what is wrong with this reveal?
If you pardon me being flippant, I think the better question is: what’s RIGHT about it? This reveal is done completely wrong, on every single level! Let me explain.
Firstly, there’s the storytelling perspective. Could someone tell me how Newt knows “Graves” is wearing a disguise? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to assume he was just a follower of Grindelwald? He just instinctively knows, despite the complete lack of any indication to suggest this is the case. You’d think someone, somewhere, would give some token line of “ Percival had a mole on his eyebrow” or “Graves wasn’t right handed“. But no! Newt just knows, because of plot convenience.
Also, there’s the way he restrains Grindelwald. He releases the Swooping Evil, which turns into a restraining webwork around Grindelwalds arms.
That ability comes completely out of fucking nowhere! Since when could it do that? It never does that at any other point in the entire movie! There’s no foreshadowing or chekovs gun-like moment where Newt goes ”Oh, and it can also turn into a sticky cobweb to restrain people”. It suddenly just can, because the plot demands it!
Then there’s the meta perspective. I know it might not always seem it, but I really like Harry Potter. I wouldn’t be so good at disproving fan theories about this franchise, if I weren’t familiar and cared about the lore and story. And it’s safe to say most people who watch this movie will also be fairly familiar with that lore.
What that means, is that we know Grindelwald won’t be stopped by this. This is a completely empty victory, because pretty much everyone knows he will escape.
And for reasons that I’ll get to soon, it’ll happen pretty damn quickly.
Because now, we reach the matter of internal logic. Unless Grindelwald escaped within one day of being captured, this ending is really stupid. Remember that exchange between him and President Piquery when his true identity was revealed?
– Do you think you can hold me?
– We’ll do our best, Mr. Grindelwald.
Here’s the thing: They don’t NEED to hold him! Think about it. What is stopping them from just executing him?!
It has been established that the death penalty exists in this society. It’s not like the execution chamber was destroyed when Newt and Tina escaped! All that happened was the chair burned up, which was part of the procedure, and somehow, I think they can get a new floating chair! There’s not all that much to stop them beyond that, as far as I can tell.
After all, there didn’t seem to be that much red tape involved when Newt and Tina were sentenced to death. Yes, that was Grindelwald in disguise, but considering the two executioners didn’t seem that conflicted about it, I’d say it means Percival Graves had the authority, at least in extreme circumstances, to issue a death sentence. Otherwise, it would be really tricky for Grindelwald to explain why a foreign national and a MACUSA official were suddenly sentenced to death without a trial. If you’re trying to lay low, overstepping your bounds like that isn’t exactly a good strategy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am very much against the death penalty. I am just going by the rules already established. Newt was sentenced to death, ostensibly due to suspicion of trying to use an obscurus to expose the wizarding world, in order to spark off an all out war between Muggles and Wizards. And this was done even though Newt Scamander is a British national. This means that extradition is most likely not an issue here.
Gellert Grindelwald, to our knowledge, is guilty of multiple counts of murder, torture, the abduction, impersonation and possibly murder of a MACUSA Official…
AS WELL as trying to use an Obscurus to expose the wizarding world, in order to spark off an all out war between Muggles and Wizards.
In other words, going by internal logic, he would be facing execution pretty much by the time he gets back to MACUSA HQ!
But we already know that he won’t be executed, which means either he got a stay of execution for as-of-yet unexplained reasons, giving him time to escape, or he escaped very soon after being caught. The former makes little to no sense and the latter, again, makes the ending victory seem a bit hollow and contrived.
But perhaps worst of all, there are all the ways this ending pretty much wastes and ruins the character of Grindelwald!
Think about that ending.
The big monster has been defeated, the villain has been caught and unmasked in front of officers of the law, and his plan has been lain bare, before he’s lead away to prison.
That’s because this is basically the ending to any given episode of Scooby-Doo!
I’m half expecting Grindelwald to exclaim
And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling zoologist! And that mangy muggle too!
A somewhat odd choice, considering literally the first thing we see in the movie is Grindelwald wiping out five Aurors singlehandedly. Not just defeating or knocking them out. He OBLITERATES them, reducing them to ash in a matter of moments, quickly followed by several headlines talking about his reign of terror. And THIS is how he is defeated?!
Of course, I’m being a bit unfair. It’s not really Newt or the Swooping Evil that defeats him. It’s his own bottomless stupidity!
Again, this is quite apparent, if you’re familiar with the lore of Grindelwald. See, there is this tiny, miniscule detail about Grindelwald at this point in time…
What was it again… Oh, right!
GRINDELWALD HAD THE FUCKING ELDER WAND!
You know, the most powerful wand in existence?
And yet, when he attacks MACUSA, he’s still using Graves’ wand. Even if he had claimed that wands loyalty, it’s not as powerful! So why the hell would he use that wand?!
Remember, at that point, his disguise has no function anymore. The benefit of posing as Graves was that it gave him access to MACUSA and their resources, in his search for the Obscurial. But now, the Obscurial is gone and he has outright declared his true intentions. So why bother staying in disguise any longer?
So, from all these different perspectives, this reveal was handled absolutely wrong.
Now, I freely admit I’m not a screenwriter, but if I may, I’d like to offer my own suggestion for how this might have been handled better, based on my experience as an avid consumer of fiction.
Same basic setup. The Obscurial has been destroyed, Graves orates on how the law has them scurrying like rats etc.
President Piqiuery tells her Aurors to arrest Graves. When he tries to leave, they put up the magic shield, and the President asks him to relinquish his wand.
At this point, instead of attacking, Graves just looks at his wand, and throws it across the subway station.
The Aurors approach… and are then blasted away by Graves, now holding the Elder Wand, and everyone freeze with surprise and confusion. He then dispells the transfiguration disguising him, and is revealed as Gellert Grindelwald, to the shock and horror of everyone.
He then starts attacking, while deflecting the incoming attacks from the Aurors, making his way towards the President.
Suddenly, they collectively put up a magic field around him, trapping him. He’s told to give up, since he is outnumbered and can’t win.
So he turns his power to the magic shield, and blasts through it.
(It’s the Elder Wand. I can buy that being possible.)
There’s a big shockwave as the field fails, and when the dust clears, Grindelwald has vanished, having apparated to parts unknown.
From there, it simply leads into the rest of the movie as normal, with the massive bird, the memory-wiping rain and all that stuff.
Now, I admit it’s not perfect, but I’d say that seems the more appropriate way to deal with the reveal. It aligns better with continuity, it makes sense according to internal logic, and from a storytelling perspective, it works because it would give us an idea WHY Grindelwald is so feared.
And crucially, it would make the reveal so much more effective! As soon as we’d see him hold the Elder Wand, everyone familiar with the lore would collectively have an “oh crap” moment, because we KNOW what that means!
I mean, this is Gellert Fucking Grindlewald we’re talking about here. Before Voldemort, HE was the Big Bad. He was the one people would call “You-Know-Who” back then. When he finally WAS defeated, it was in a duel so great, it damn near entered fucking LEGEND!
Their approach here diminishes that so much! Not only that, but it also wastes Johnny Depp!
One of the things we knew for certain about this movie, something many were excited about, was Johnny Depp playing Grindelwald. Seeing a great actor portray one of the most infamous, but until now seldom seen dark wizards in the franchise? Not as a young kid, not as an old man, but in the prime of his life? I don’t know about you, but that was something I was looking forward to, when watching this movie.
Do you know how much of that we get in the movie? I do. I fucking counted.
Five minutes? Two and a half? No.
I repeat. 42 seconds, and TWO LINES OF DIALOGUE! And that is INCLUDING the transformation sequence!
You screw up the resolution of the main plot with a nonsensical scooby-doo ending, and in the process not only ruin what could have been a great reveal, but also reduce a great actor (and a major draw to the movie) to a smaller on-screen performance than Keith Richards cameo in On Stranger Tides!?
I’m sorry, but what the tenpenny hell is wrong with you?!
And yes, I am aware that this movie was written by J.K Rowling, and you may well call me arrogant for trying to correct a highly acclaimed author.
However, I’d like to remind you that this is the same author who saw nothing wrong with love potions being legal.
My point is, she’s not immune to making mistakes now and then.
And that’s just it! This is one mistake. Like I said earlier, I liked this movie! It was just this ONE thing in an otherwise perfectly fine movie that raised my ire! One thing which I felt the movie could have done better.
Everything else was done about as well as one could expect. Hell, there was one really nice and clever thing someone pointed out to me, which I didn’t even pick up on. So, to appease those who may even now plot my horrible death, I present said observation, to distract you while I make my escape.
The reason Jacob Kowalski still remembers the beasts, if only subconsciously, despite having his mind wiped?
That’s because the poison from the Swooping Evil, when properly diluted, is explicitly mentioned as being able to remove bad memories. For the majority of citizens in New York, this means all the weird occurrences, the destruction, fear and chaos caused by monsters in recent days is forgotten.
But to Kowalski, most of his exposure to the world of magic WASN’T negative. Seeing those amazing beasts, finding a friend in Newt Scamander, meeting Queenie… Those weren’t bad memories! Because of that, they were not erased, only suppressed.
So there’s a good chance that meeting Queenie again might restore those positive memories.
That’s an uplifting, heartwarming and absolutely valid idea, I think.