I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter series since around the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was volunteering at my local library that summer (way back in high school...because I’m old). Kids would give me verbal book reports of something they had read and I would let them pick a prize out of a treasure chest. And a lot of them were really excited about this Harry Potter kid. So I borrowed my sister’s copies of the first three books and caught up. Then I basically read every book from Goblet of Fire on at launch and saw all of the movies opening weekend. A Very Potter Musical is one of my favorite things the internet has ever given me. I would by no means consider myself a die-hard though. I haven’t bothered with the Cursed Child play and while there was a time when I perused mugglenet or even J.K. Rowling’s website rather frequently, I’m mostly a lapsed fan at this point.
I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opening weekend with rather conservative expectations. I have no affinity for these characters in the same way I watched Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow-up. And while I love that the lore of the wizarding world is being fleshed out to introduce American magic, I haven’t kept up on Pottermore outside of doing the latest poll to determine your American house or Patronus so I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what it means when I say I’m a Horned Serpent.
On the whole, Fantastic Beasts gets by a lot on the pure nostalgia of being back in the Harry Potter wizarding world. I don’t know that I’d say the movie was exactly good. I had a fun enough time in the moment but it was a largely forgettable film, with very little sticking with me a month removed.
“Is that why you’re worried, Trevor?” I hear you asking in my made-up hypothetical. “You titled this essay ‘Why I’m Worried…’ but you’ve just spent the first few paragraphs on background?”
No, faithful reader. I am worried because it would appear that Newt Scamander and the Fantastic Beasts may fall victim to being background characters in their own movies.
Spoilers for Fantastic Beasts ahead.
The casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in this film and the announcement that Warner Bros. already has another four films mapped out suggests to me that J.K. Rowling stumbled upon the realization that the wizarding war between Dumbledore and Grindelwald will be a far more interesting story to see played out in this universe. The conflict between those friends/possible lovers turned enemies over idealogy is ripe with drama and excitement. But Rowling and Warner Bros. had already put their eggs in this Fantastic Beasts basket and got too far into production before directly tying it into this larger event in the timeline. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was an early draft of the script where Graves (played by Colin Farrell) was his own character and not Grindelwald in disguise.
Then there’s the Depp effect itself. I feel like the general consensus when we hear or see Johnny Depp in something these days is much less positive than at the height of his powers in the first couple Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He’s the epitome of the trouble the film industry can run into when you take a character actor and turn him into a leading man. His quirks and eccentricities work great in small doses but when they are overexposed, fatigue sets in. So connecting him to such a pivotal character in the wizarding history (and giving him the kind of striking visual look and style that Depp relishes) has me concerned. And a big name like Depp as Grindelwald suggests Warner Bros. will have to match star power for star power with their eventual casting of a young Dumbledore in this world.
Personally, my money and hopes are on Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston’s charm and screen presence could easily go toe-to-toe against Depp and would at least make the best of this situation, even in this hypothetical scenario where we’re watching two of the most powerful wizards of their time face off while Newt and friends continue to go on otherwise fun, harmless adventures with a mix of cute and dangerous CGI creatures. And I’d have no problem rooting for Hiddledore over Grindeldepp any day.
So at the end of the day, I think the much smarter move would have been to tell these little harmless Newt Scamander stories as he chases down his magical creatures. And have a separate series exploring the Wizarding War. They could certainly feature minor crossovers a la Cinematic Universes but let each story exist on its own, instead of starting down one path and trying to continue on along both sides of the fork in the road.
But let’s hope for the best, I guess. At least we’ve already been promised four more adventures in that universe, in some form or another.