'The Crimes of Grindelwald' is a tale of creeping fascism to an audience tiring of looking inward
When Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was released earlier this year, it was met with very lukewarm reviews. The general consensus among most critics found the story lacking substance beyond a pandering to a base of nerd culture who will watch a 139 minute film full of pop culture references for the sake of having “Oh, I recognize that!” references. However, just seven years prior, Cline’s book received adulation for doing the exact same thing. In a short period of time, an escapist fantasy which was called “a guaranteed pleasure” had become a piece of fiction where people would say things like: “Is this what it’s like to watch a culture die?”
Most of the commentaries believe controversies over toxic fandoms have taken their toll within popular zeitgeist. Whether it be Gamergate, or Comicsgate, or toxic Star Wars fans, some of the fun has been taken out of immersing one’s self in pop culture by people who define their value by gatekeeping that culture. This has also gone hand in hand with a trend of communities across all aspects of society becoming more insular at the fringes, whether it be movies, television, music, or dare I say politics. Some of the most vocal members define their status not by what a thing is, but by defending the purity and sanctity of their precious against what they believe it is not. And this is true no matter if talking about what Star Wars shouldn’t include, all the way to what an American is not supposed to be. Add into this we’ve gone through a roughly two decade period where the major entertainment franchises of the past thirty years have had their bones picked through for reboot and prequel material, leading to endless lost hours of debate from troll and non-troll alike on what’s been changed, how things fit, and whether it all sucks. But a side-effect of this is a nerd culture which largely searches for a way to hold on to old magic, and make past memories great again, instead of creating new ones.
With David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, it is the tenth film in J.K. Rowling’s “Wizarding World” franchise and the second prequel to the main Harry Potter story. Telling the tale of major events which shape Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), that also sets the stage for Lord Voldemort’s later rise, the magic community divides over the rules which keep them hidden from muggle life after the dark wizard Gellert Grendelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes and begins drawing more and more followers to his side. Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is forced to choose a side as he races against Grendelwald to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who seems to be a very important person in a very ancient prophecy. Rowling’s story uses the trappings of her wizarding world to warn about the dangers of being complacent while demagogues rant and spew bigotry, which is not a surprise given her very outspoken criticism of Trumpism.
The ending for this film, which was written by Rowling, has already been somewhat divisive among Rowling’s fans. However, there is a question of execution. Because, even though for fans of this universe it can be fun to return to it, there are moments where the film descends into references for reference sake.