The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up months after the events of the first Fantastic Beasts, where the magic zoologist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) met the wizard cop Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) in New York, along with her kindly sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and a non-wizard (“No-Maj,” in American parlance) baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Together, the pals uncover a conspiracy involving a repressed and very powerful wizard with the Dickensian moniker Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who is also being tailed by Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a notorious wizard criminal who preaches magical superiority.
If this new film can be said to revolve around anyone, it’s Credence. Though Newt and Grindelwald are major players, they spend most of the action circling each other, with Newt acting as an advance agent for his former teacher Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Credence, meanwhile, is the only person driving the film forward while the others bide their time; he’s in Paris trying to prove the rumor that he’s a long-lost member of the Lestrange wizarding family. What follows is a twist that is cataclysmically plotted and nigh-impossible to understand.
A lengthy monologue from Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) helps explain it. She once had a baby half brother. But young Leta, who resented the child, switched him with another baby in a fit of pique while on a boat crossing. The boat sank, and her half brother drowned; the new baby she kidnapped grew up to be none other than Credence. Later, Grindelwald arrives and completes the picture: Credence, somehow, is in fact named Aurelius Dumbledore, and he’s the brother of the beloved teacher who will decades later mentor Harry Potter.
There is no reasonable way to justify this revelation, which is deployed as the film’s most shocking moment. Why a random Dumbledore baby would have been on the same ship as the Lestranges is not explained. It’s improbable that Credence, who is 18 years old, could be brother to Albus Dumbledore, who is 46 in the film. Albus’s mother died before Credence was born (though his father’s fate is less clear, so Credence could be a half brother). It’s also possible that Grindelwald is lying—but then why make the reveal the movie’s big ending? True or false, Albus Dumbledore was not interested in telling Harry about Aurelius years later, instead only ever mentioning his brother Aberforth and his sister Ariana.
Read: Harry Potter and the never-ending story
This is the curse of making a prequel series, one that Rowling is perhaps only beginning to understand (The Crimes of Grindelwald is getting far worse reviews than the first Fantastic Beasts): You can’t drop bombshells that end up having no effect on the original stories you’re referencing. Secret brother or not, Credence is never referenced by name in the Harry Potter series, so it’s hard to care about him. If the Fantastic Beasts movies were more careful about staying separate from their forebears, then they could stand alone with their own wild twists. But the presence of crucial characters such as Dumbledore link the two franchises inextricably.