It has been 20 years since the best-selling series “Harry Potter” was born. In the two decades since, the books have spawned theme parks, video games and the run of film adaptations during the 2000s that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. After the conclusion of the film series in 2011, fans wondered if they would ever visit the wizarding world on the silver screen again. The wait would finally end in 2016 with the release of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
The movie followed the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of a textbook of the same name from the “Harry Potter” books. Following the film’s success, making over $814 million, it was announced that four sequels would follow.
The second, “Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald,” came in 2018, and the third film, titled “Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore,” is set to release later this year. In the four years between the second and third movies, however, fans could not help but notice issues with the series, both diegetic and nondiegetic. The production faults include the recasting of the key role originally played by Johnny Depp as well as the executive producer and creator J.K. Rowling’s fall from grace in the court of public opinion. With the new film on its way, major story elements are sacrificed in favor of a new direction that includes sidelining the main character. Consequently, the film’s attempts to tell a compelling narrative may be in vain.
Fantastic Actors, Nowhere to Find Them
Despite the franchise title “Fantastic Beasts,” the “Secrets of Dumbledore” trailers bestow most of its attention on Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Fans immediately noticed the recasting of Johnny Depp’s character Grindelwald, who will now be played by Mads Mikkelson. In light of a verdict in favor of The Sun during Depp’s meticulous and very public divorce with actress Amber Heard, Depp announced on his own Instagram that he had been “asked to resign by Warner Bros. from the role of Grindelwald.” The announcement sparked a wave of support for the actor and calls to boycott the upcoming films in the “Fantastic Beasts” series. Warner Bros. has also been heavily criticized for maintaining the decision to keep Depp out of the series, despite investigations asserting his innocence.
The revelation that Mikkelson would replace Depp as Grindelwald received mixed reviews from conflicted fans. Despite the talent and credits the actor brings to the table, it all comes too little, too late. The investigations additionally showed that Heard, now Depp’s ex-wife, was more likely the abuser in their relationship. Although the news may have been brought to the attention of Warner Bros., the production company ultimately decided not to remove Heard from “Aquaman 2.”
Depp has continued to fight for his right to appeal to the courts and plans to sue Heard for defamation. The discourse surrounding the couple continues to bleed into the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise; Mikkelson himself confessed to The Sunday Times: “I don’t know if it was fair, him losing the job, but I just knew that the show was going on, and I would’ve loved to have talked to him about it if I had the chance.”
Crimes of Rowling
Amid the recasting, many of the remaining cast members have kept silent on not just the news about Depp but also the controversies surrounding the series creator, J.K. Rowling. In hindsight, it may just be the series’s biggest downfall. The court of public opinion has arrayed against Rowling following the transphobic tweets she has posted over the years. The author’s fall from grace began most notably in December of 2019 when she defended a business researcher by the name of Maya Forstater, who had “lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets,” as Rowling wrote in an open letter six months later. Forstater filed a lawsuit over the termination, although the court ruled Forstater’s views as “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.”
Since the court case, Rowling has doubled down on her views, and as a result, she was labeled a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Rowling continues to push her beliefs that sex as a label is real, especially the binary system of identification. As one would believe, the rose-colored glasses worn by her fans continued to crack with every tweet from the author, turning many fans off of the magical world of Harry Potter.
Amid the debates over the “Fantastic Beasts” series prompted by Rowling’s various Twitter tirades, a few of the cast members have spoken out against her and stood by the trans community. Eddie Redmayne, the original leading man of the series, denounced her tweets in a statement to Variety magazine, mentioning, “I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities.” Redmayne’s comments take on additional weight in the context of his role as a transgender woman in “The Danish Woman.”
Questions as to whether his statements caused his character to be demoted to a minor role in “Secrets of Dumbledore” are, of course, valid, seeing as his co-star Katherine Waterson received similar treatment. Waterson, who plays Tina Goldstein and is Redmayne’s love interest, has also criticized Rowling. As reported by Variety, in the summer of 2020, when Rowling continued to make anti-trans tweets, Waterson shared an Instagram story that cited an article by The Guardian, adding: “you can’t be a feminist if you’re not for everyone’s human rights, notably other women’s rights.”
Waterson’s criticism of Rowling’s brand of feminism led to questions as to whether the actress would continue to appear in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise. In the two trailers released since these incidents, her character rarely surfaces. Except for a few frames in the second trailer, Waterson looks to be anything but a major character in “Secrets of Dumbledore.” The issue, however, is a sign of a problem seldom mentioned with the series.
“Fantastic Beasts” Going Extinct
As if production issues did not already pose a threat to the film’s success, flaws exist within the diegetic elements of the series as well. While recasting Grindelwald has caused turmoil within the fanbase, the story surrounding his relationship with Dumbledore comes at the cost of pushing one of the original principal characters to the background. The first film mainly centers around Newt Scamander catching mystical beasts as if they are Pokémon; but as seen with the second and now the third movie, “sidelining Scamander’s magizoologist adventures in favor of the impending Dumbledore and Grindelwald fight” perhaps makes the movies function better as standalone films than as a part of a continuous series of adventures. In regards to the sequel, Screen Rant wrote that Newt Scamander is “essentially in the way of his own franchise” as the writers begin to steer the plot in a new direction while also trying to hold on to any reason to keep the series’s title intact.
On IMDb, “Secrets of Dumbledore” is described as “The third installment of the ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ series which follows the adventures of Newt Scamander” — but the adventure in question may turn out to be a side quest for the new main character, Dumbledore. The story also seems questionable when examining the details and plotlines as they continue to unravel. The climax of the second film reveals Grindelwald’s plan: to subjugate Muggles (humans without magic) to the wizarding world in an effort to stop World War II. The villain of the story shows his fellow wizards images of war, including the development of the atom bomb meant to end the conflict. If pondered enough, the story becomes a question of why Dumbledore, someone in the movie for a handful of scenes, wants to stop Grindelwald.
While the history of Dumbledore and Grindelwald was compelling when first revealed in the original Harry Potter books, stretching the tale out over five movies comes across as mining nostalgia for a cash grab. Though the first film expanded on the wizarding world in an interesting way, the sequels begin to backpedal on established lore — such as a Muggle being granted the use of a magic wand in the trailer of “Secrets of Dumbledore.” However the story plays out, “Secrets of Dumbledore” has all of the indicators that it might gross even smaller box office numbers than the previous two films. The remaining fans who have not become disillusioned by Rowling’s intolerant beliefs still have faith in the acceptance of the wizarding world’s ability to transcend reality.
Moreover, while Mads Mikkelson would have been a wise choice to play Grindelwald originally, the shadow of Johnny Depp’s divorce darkens the news of the recasting. Even with the plot of the film continuing to shy away from the beating heart of the title — “Fantastic Beasts” originally starring Newt Scamander — the film may be nothing more than a slow pulse on the silver screen. There is no question of fans following the allure of nostalgia to the theater and giving “Secrets of Dumbledore” their hard-earned money, but the issues both in-world and out may leave the film dead on arrival come opening day.