They say never go back. But then “they” never had to cope with derisive reviews, tumbling box office receipts and the highly public fall from grace of an A-list star. In the ranks of movies based on the works of JK Rowling, Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald, released in 2018, was the Wizarding World equivalent of that time Neville Longbottom accidentally transplanted his own ears on to a cactus; an episode so muddled and painful that the average Hogwarts student would need a magic spell just to understand what the hell was supposed to be going on and why any of us should care.
And so the saga’s next instalment, The Secrets of Dumbledore, is probably best off harking back to the good old days, when Harry, Ron and Hermione only had to worry about Voldemort’s next appearance rather than the potential cancellation of an entire movie series. Duly, the new trailer for the film arrived this week, and once again we’re heading back to the famous wizarding school. Crimes of Grindelwald also featured some scenes set at Hogwarts, but it looks like this time around the grand old place could play an even bigger part in the action. There’s even a clip of Michael Gambon as Professor Albus Dumbledore, just to remind everyone that this was a very successful movie series once.
The problem is, even if Hogwarts is back in the picture, we all know this isn’t going to be a movie about quidditch, inter-house rivalries and the difficulties of navigating Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station. It’s going to be a film about Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and his ever-expanding menagerie of magical creatures. It’s going to be about Jude Law’s Dumbledore battling Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald, even though they once signed a blood pact promising never to fight each other. It’s going to be a film in which we all ask ourselves over and again why Rowling had to borrow a plot line from the Star Wars prequels and make lovable Queenie turn to the dark side in her desperate attempts to retain her romance with Jacob Kowalski. (By the way, where is Queenie’s sister and Newt’s future wife, Tina?)
But most of all it’s going to be about the true identity of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), which will most likely (if the film’s title is to be believed) have something to do with something naughty Dumbledore did back in his tangled youth.
This is the same Credence Barebone whom we were first introduced to as the moping son of an American anti-witchcraft campaigner in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), but who was revealed by the end of the film to be something called an Obscurial, a wizard who ignores their own magical potential due to psychological torment. In Crimes of Grindelwald we were told Credence was in fact the long lost brother of Zoë Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange, Corvus Lestrange V (no, us neither). But by the end of that movie he probably wasn’t actually this either.
According to Grindelwald (once played by Colin Farrell, then Johnny Depp, now Mikkelsen), he was actually Aurelius Dumbledore, Albus’s long-lost brother. But why should we trust anyone who has swapped faces more times than Doctor Who?
The truth of Credence’s identity seems almost as befuddled as the apparently ever-shifting allegiances of Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape in the original Harry Potter books and movies, except a whole lot less interesting. The main issue here is that the Fantastic Beasts movies are prequels to the events of young Harry’s schooldays, and if Credence’s true identity were that of anyone crucial to Potter fandom, somebody would have worked it out by now.
So why is Rowling so obsessed with Credence Barebone? Miller is doing an excellent job, but Credence has been through more tonal costume changes than Ron once went through shonky Christmas jumpers. Let’s hope the actor knows where it’s going to end up, and why it all matters. And let’s hope the rest of us find out before we lose the will to live and take a (figurative) dive-bomb off Hogwarts’ tallest tower.
• This article was amended on 4 March and 9 March 2022. An earlier version said that the latest film was the first look at Hogwarts since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011. In fact some scenes in 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald were set at the school. The earlier article version also mistakenly used the pronouns he/himself for Ezra Miller, who prefers they/them.