Historically, prequels to iconic film franchises haven’t been as well received as their predecessors. While often enjoyable, and occasionally showcasing a mastery of new technology, series like the Star Warsprequels, and now Star Wars stories, The Hobbit trilogy, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, are often regarded as unnecessary by general audiences and critics. How many stakes can there be when the end result of the narrative is ultimately known? And what happens when the prequels begin to contradict previously established canon? But Fantastic Beasts finds itself in a different position, one that stems from the perspective of Harry Potter, or lack thereof.
While it’s difficult to imagine any Wizarding World series topping the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their struggle against Voldemort, Rowling’s initial series offered only a glimpse into the larger world of magic. Our insight into this world was largely determined by adolescents, and thus the view of how the world worked and notions of good and evil were driven by an adolescent perspective. Fantastic Beastshas the ability to shift those notions in order to tell a complex story through the lens of adults whose morals may not be as pure and whose struggle is not as easily waged among dividing lines. As the stakes of the film come into view in this latest trailer, we see that while this path may eventually lead to Harry Potter, the road is not a straight or narrow one.
Right at the top, we have the trailer’s biggest revelation. While Claudia Kim’s character has been kept under wraps for the past year, we finally know that she is playing Nagini. Yes, that’s the very same Nagini who later becomes one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, who ultimately kills Snape, and who is beheaded by Neville Longbottom. In Fantastic Beasts, she is a member of the Circus Arcanus, a wizarding freakshow that Credence Barebones also finds himself a, seemingly unwilling, part of. While she has always been seen as the massive and terrifying snake in the Harry Potter series, this latest film will reveal her backstory and how she took those initial steps to come into Voldemort’s possession. She and Credence, who has suggested as being central to the mythos going forward, may end up being two of the most important characters in this franchise in terms of shaping the future events the Harry Potter novels didn’t divulge.
Previous trailers positioned Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald as a kind of magical Hitler, but this trailer adds additional layers to the character that don’t make his villainy as concrete. While his demand, “join me or die” assuredly points to his malevolence, his platform for allowing wizards to take their rightful place and break the bonds of their second-class citizenry has some merits. Less of a warmonger than a revolutionary, Grindelwald perhaps doesn’t seem quite as mad after we glimpse wizards being kept in cages and the abuse of their rights. The century of peace between wizards and muggles referenced in the trailer may be more illusion than truth. Given how the wizarding world operates in Harry Potter, invisible to the muggle eye, it will be interesting to see how this war sets the stage for that. In a year of complex villains driven by trauma with agendas that aren’t entirely wrong, most notably Black Panther’s Killmonger, we may see Grindelwald join their ranks.
Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) place in the war hasn’t been entirely clear before. Here we learn that Dumbledore wants him to use his skills as a Magizoologist to hunt down and kill Grindelwald. Fans have wondered about the continuing use of the Fantastic Beasts title after the first film, considering the franchise has more at stake that lost magical creatures, but it seems clear here that Fantastic Beasts isn’t just a reference to animals, but to wizards as well. In this case Grindelwald is the beast, and while Scamander may track him down, killing is very much against his code of ethics. His brother Theseus tells him that he’ll have to pick a side eventually, but as someone who, as he says, doesn’t pick sides, how will Newt manage to survive on the front lines of a race war? Dumbledore, hero he may be, doesn’t seem to be entirely in the right by placing such a task on Newt, especially considering his reasons may be selfish.
Dumbledore (Jude Law) reveals that he cannot move against Grindelwald because of his own personal feelings for him. In a quick cameo that fans are sure to immediately pick up on, Jamie Campbell Bower reprises his role as young Grindelwald from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) in the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore’s reputation in the Harry Potter books is founded on his defeat of Grindelwald, which raises the question of how he manages to overcome his feelings or if his success was founded on a lie. When it came to Harry, Dumbledore’s greatest regret was asking too much of the boy, but perhaps those were repeated mistakes as he seemingly asks Newt to take on much of the same on his behalf. While we doubt the image of Dumbledore will be corrupted, the trailer does suggest that there’s much more to the man than the saintly position audiences grew used to when Richard Harris and Michael Gambon played the role. While Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald suggests an all-out war, this is only the beginning. With three more installments planned, there’s a long way to go until the endgame and Rowling surely has plenty of surprises up her sleeve to throw off even the most diehard Wizarding World fans.