A Love Letter to Leta Lestrange, the Tragically Unsung Hero of 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald'
By Meredith B. Kile
Warner Bros. Pictures
Spoilers for "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" below.
One of the main problems with the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, lies right there in the title.
While the latest installment in the Harry Potter spinoff franchise is another thrilling adventure -- following Eddie Redmayne’s enigmatic and endearing Newt Scamander as he returns to Europe with his magical menagerie -- there is little mystery to its main villain, given how much we already know from Potter canon.
We know Grindelwald is Bad, with a capital “B,” because he is essentially the monde magique’s 1920’s equivalent of an ascending fascist leader -- he wants to “Make the Wizarding World Great Again,” believing that people with magical blood deserve to rule the world, no matter how many Muggles must suffer to achieve that goal. We also know he’s Bad because Johnny Depp has one ice blue contact lens, which he uses to mug menacingly into the camera, and because Jude Law’s dapper young Dumbledore tells us so. (And we know that Dumbledore is Good -- fallible and troubled by his connection with the villainous rogue, certainly, but ultimately righteous -- so we trust him.)
That doesn’t leave much intrigue left over for Grindelwald himself -- save for the further-teased-but-barely-realized romantic bond he and Dumbledore shared as young wizards. In fact, until the film’s final scenes, most of the titular villain’s “crimes” are dispatched to lackeys -- including the murder of a young family just so he can use their apartment in Paris. (There is a truly bone-chilling parallel for Potter fans when the wizard grins wickedly as he encounters the dead couple’s toddler -- for just a moment, another “boy who lived” -- but even that roadblock is ultimately cast off for an underling to eliminate.)
Plus, we know how all of this ends. We know Grindelwald will ultimately duel with Dumbledore and lose, we know he will have the Elder Wand taken from him. We know that he’ll die in exile at the hand of his former friend-with-blood-pact-benefits, and that another dark wizard will take up his cause for a world ruled by a magical minority. We’re even warned, about halfway through, that his grand final gesture in the film’s final act, a rally of his supporters at a graveyard in France, will be a trap. And it is.
Truthfully, it’s not just a Grindelwald problem. Some of the movie’s most compelling characters are the ones we know the least about in Potter canon and get to explore, to varying degrees, in this new installment: among them Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone, Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein, and especially, Zoe Kravitz’sLeta Lestrange.
Fans know Leta from the first Fantastic Beasts -- Newt carries her photo with him and tells Queenie (Alison Sudol) they were friends during their time at Hogwarts -- butCrimes of Grindelwaldgives us a closer look at the character, as well as her complicated relationship with the siblings Scamander. (Callum Turner is perfectly cast as Newt’s older brother, Theseus, an auror who seems proud to follow every rule that his sibling flouts. He is also, as it turns out, Leta’s fiance.)
Kravitz stuns as an underappreciated star of the movie, which unfortunately relegates most of her character’s genuinely fascinating and tragic backstory to an exposition montage crammed just before the final set piece. From the first moment Newt runs into her at the London Ministry of Magic, however, we understand that the two share a meaningful emotional bond, and in a film packed with spectacular special effects and impressive animation work, some of the most thrilling sequences are the far simpler flashbacks to their time together at Hogwarts.
Leta’s family name will give Potter fans pause, just as it gives her classmates ammunition to scorn her, but unlike some of her relatives, it’s a legacy she’s carried joylessly through her tumultuous life -- unloved by her wicked father and cast aside for a more desirable male heir.
“Being a Lestrange is an interesting thing,” Kravitz told ET of her character at the premiere of her thriller, Gemini, earlier this year. “She’s not just a bad girl, she’s just had a really complicated past and been misunderstood. I think the Lestranges as a family are just misunderstood people.”
It’s clear Leta has always had an ally in Newt, similarly shunned by his peers. We even know that Newt taking the fall for Leta was what led to his expulsion from Hogwarts in the first place. And while the magizoologist’s friends express concern for his lingering feelings towards his brother’s bride-to-be, it’s obvious from Kravitz’s performance that there’s a connection that remains on Leta’s end as well.
“You’re too good, Newt,” she warns him late in the film. “You never met a monster you couldn’t love.”
And then, she dies. (At least, I think that’s what we’re supposed to believe happens when Grindelwald uses his furious blue flames to turn dissenters and attacking aurors into Thanos dust.) With little more than an “I love you” cast in the direction of both Scamander brothers -- leaving her intended target up for interpretation -- Leta shuns Grindelwald’s offer of infamy and acceptance and is obliterated into a blaze of something less than glory.
Fascinating as she is, Leta gets a little lost in the colossal amount of story that The Crimes of Grindelwald packs into its 133-minute runtime, and her death leaves a number of questions unfortunately unanswered. It’s hard not to leave the movie thinking that every on-screen moment Depp's rote reprobate spends skulking in a Parisian parlor would have been better spent on a story like her’s: a multi-racial Slytherin witch with warring streaks of darkness and light in her, who holds one of the keys to the mystery of Credence’s sought-after family history. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that with a little more exploration into Leta's story, this installment could easily have been titled The Crimes of the Lestrange Family.
So, here’s hoping we get to see more of Kravitz’s character in future Fantastic Beasts films -- if only in flashbacks -- to learn more about her time at Hogwarts with Newt, what happened in the interceding years, and how she ended up with Theseus instead. Her memory will almost certainly be called upon to inform the brothers’ relationships in future films in the franchise; it’s a shame she won’t be there to see it.