No, the Villain Is Not “Always Right,” Especially in Crimes of Grindelwald
I am so tired, and this film's been out less than a week.
Listen, I know everyone’s already tired of hearing about the problems with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m tired of writing about it, too!
Unfortunately, the tomfoolery will not cease, and I will continue to cover it until you pry my laptop from my cold, bitter hands. Today, let’s talk about recent interviews with both Alison Sudol (Queenie) and Ezra Miller (Credence) that just reinforce the deeply problematic elements of the film. Let’s preface this with the statement that, yes, actors are under contract to not tear apart their own projects, and yes, they’re going to view their characters more sympathetically than others, but still. Come on.
**Spoilers will follow; read at your own risk.**
The film ends with both Credence and Queenie joining up with Grindelwald in his fortress in Austria. Just a quick reminder: Rowling envisioned Grindelwald as a Hitler-esque figure, with his inscription of “For the Greater Good” on the prison in which he keeps opponents, and his dreams of wiping out the Muggle population. His defeat is supposed to align with the end of World War 2, though at this point, the timeline seems really weird.
But yes, Grindelwald was, in his original incarnation, written to be a Nazi, which means we’re really not supposed to sympathize with him.
“Alison are I are so excited to be on the ambiguous villains side because the villain on a certain level is always right. The protagonist, on a certain level, has to maintain the status quo. That’s why we love villains because they come and try to shake things up. And then it’s about restoring the power and potency to doing good. And Jo does incredible work with that. She reminds that what’s better than being a violent idiot is being a smart thoughtful caring wonderful human.”
The last part of the quote is indeed absolutely lovely, because who doesn’t love the idea of compassion triumphing all? However, I’ve got some really big issues with applying it to the context of Grindelwald; we’ll jump on that after we cover the first part of this quote.
There isn’t much that’s ambiguous here about Grindelwald’s villainy. He wants to commit genocide and makes that even more clear in the first thirty minutes of the film when he kills two unarmed Muggles and their toddler. There is nothing about this that’s “always right,” and if we’re saying the villain is always right, does that apply to, say, genocidal Thanos, as well? How about Darth Vader and Kylo Ren with their fascist governments? I know Thanos and the Empire did nothing wrong according to Reddit, but that’s just Reddit.
For the villains in these big franchises, “shaking things up” usually means initiating a violent rule over innocents. Or murdering innocents. Or committing massive crimes. If that’s what’s needed to battle the status quo, I’ll tend to stick to the good guys, then, because the villains might want to shake things up, but their solutions are often wrong on a massive scale.
I’m really tired of this rhetoric on the whole, but to see it applied to a franchise with such an obvious Nazi parallel is downright frustrating. Grindelwald is not “right,” nor is his shakeup lovable.
This is not to say that you can’t love, or even love to hate, villains. Top favorites of mine include Loki, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and a host of other deliciously evil bad guys. I just try not to say they did nothing wrong (save for the occasional joke or two to bother friends) because a lot of them did many things wrong, and to wipe out the fact that they’re evil, despite being likable, is to do a disservice to them as characters.
Similarly, Grindelwald is not compelling at all due to a lackluster performance, but had a different actor played him or a better writer written him, he might be fun to watch. That doesn’t make him right, though, and it’s not necessarily the best thing to say that he’s right, either.
Miller’s words about redemption tie into costar Sudol’s words about Queenie’s future. “I still believe in her heart of hearts she’s going over to fight what she believes in,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “Grindelwald is saying, ‘we’re creating a different world,’ and the world that she is in is broken. I don’t believe she’s turning evil. It’s more like she’s trying to find somebody who is giving her an option. He’s manipulating her, but he’s manipulating everybody. He even did that with Dumbledore.”
Yes, Queenie is being manipulated, and yes, you can be radicalized to a cause regardless of who you are, but Sudol, even in defense of her character, has to know that Queenie is stepping over to the Dark Side. It’s doubtful that neither she nor Credence will be spared getting their hands dirty on Grindelwald’s orders. They are going to kill good people for the bad guy. We shouldn’t be talking about whether they are good or evil; we should be talking about whether they should get a redemption arc or not.
There are ways to defend both characters without becoming a villain apologist. Queenie is manipulated, and if they are intending on having her survive the series and eventually marry Jacob, they’re going to need to do a lot of work on her story to make that believable. She’s joining an organization hellbent on wiping people like Jacob off the face of the planet; she can’t just cry and feel bad and then rejoin the team. She’ll need to do some work, but given Rowling’s treatment of Snape, surely all will be forgiven the second Queenie realizes that her behavior is bad.
I doubt Credence will ultimately live, since we never hear about a fourth Dumbledore running around, so I have some suspicions that his fate will be more in line with Darth Vader’s in that redemption will equal death.
I know that the actors can’t just rip on the project and any decisions they disagree with in interviews. However, I’m not thrilled with the idea of the creatives behind the film viewing Grindelwald as being in any way sympathetic, or handwaving their characters’ evil turns to follow him. If Domhnall Gleeson can talk about how General Hux is a piece of shit, you can call out your characters’ own bad behavior while still understanding where they are coming from, rather than just saying the Nazi parallel is secretly “always right.”
Come on, guys. Seriously.
(via Entertainment Weekly, image: Warner Bros)
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