Spoilers included for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald received a lot of backlash, especially on social media, after its release in theaters. Whether fans were confused by the plot, angry with J.K. Rowling for adding in a not-so-surprising twist, or wondering why Dumbledore is wearing suits instead of a fancy Hogwarts robe, the film and its prequel don’t have the love that the Harry Potter movies do.
I was late to the Harry Potter obsession. I didn’t read the books until years after they were published and I only watched the movies a year ago. The first Harry Potter movie I saw in theaters was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
While reading Harry Potter, I enjoyed the story and the characters. I could see why so many people were drawn to the books, but I didn’t feel like the magic of it all captured me until I saw the world come to life on the silver screen with Fantastic Beasts. It blew me away.
Since watching Fantastic Beasts and more recently the Crimes of Grindelwald, I came to the conclusion that this series, for several reasons, is a thousand times better than Harry Potter.
The story doesn’t center around a teenage boy.
Let’s be honest for a moment: Harry isn’t the best protagonist. He makes dumb decisions and focuses on the wrong things and just happens to make the right choices all the time even though his upbringing would suggest he had no examples of what kindness and love truly mean.
Credence Barebones, in contrast, is also an orphan searching for his identity and this magic ability that has suddenly been thrust upon him. But where Harry makes lots of friends and learns to be just like his parents and defeats an evil dark lord because well, he’s the main character, Credence suffers. He was abused, neglected, abandoned—and it shows. He doesn’t always make the right decision. He makes friends, sure, but they aren’t always the best ones. He’s desperate, and his desperation makes him interesting. Watching the films, we don’t always know which choice he will make. We might be able to guess he’ll join with Grindelwald to find the answers he seeks, but we don’t know until that moment passes.
Harry? We always know he’ll do the right thing, even if he might make a mistake or two along the way. No, Harry isn’t perfect, but he’s a far cry from an interesting, dynamic main character.
But Credence isn’t the main character of the series, right? Newt Scamander is supposed to be the main character. Though, I’d argue there isn’t a single main character but an entire cast. Queenie’s story is just as important as Newt’s or Tina’s or even Leta’s. They all play a part in making the story have purpose and direction, instead of just a single teenage boy orchestrating the perfect outcome of every encounter with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
But Newt Scamander makes for an interesting main character as well. He isn’t perfect. He spends far too much time with mythical creatures over humans, he’s socially awkward, and yes, he does choose over and over to do the right thing. He’s interesting because of these aspects. We see that his compassion and patience, his unwillingness to let anybody suffer, stems from his love for all creatures. He would make just as much effort to rescue a rascally Niffler as he would to save an abandoned boy who fears the power running through his veins.
Newt presents a new kind of hero, an unsuspecting hero. He’s not the Chosen One. He’s not reckless or hot-headed. He’s not a natural-born leader like Harry. Instead, Newt has been kicked out of Hogwarts, banned from traveling internationally, and considered an outsider by the wizarding world. He doesn’t like to talk in front of people, and his soft-hearted, Hufflepuff nature does not seek popularity or power. But he’s a hero because he chooses to enter the fight first to protect his beasts and later to protect the people he’s grown to care for. In the words of Dumbledore, he simply asks, “Is this the right thing? If it is, then I must do it, no matter the cost.”
The Wizarding World is expanded.
We no longer have to wonder how wizards in other countries live their lives. Harry Potter is mainly contained in Hogwarts and England. We get a glimpse of other schools in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arriving for the Triwizard Tournament, but we don’t have the opportunity to experience how wizards and witches truly live in other countries or even during different periods of time. Until Fantastic Beasts. Do they learn the same spells? Have the same magical creatures? How does the Ministry of Magic work in America? France or Germany? China and Japan? While Fantastic Beasts hasn’t covered the entirety of the Wizarding World across the globe, it has introduced us to new schools such as Ilvermorny and wizard lifestyles in America and France.
Not only does it expand the world, but it brings new aspects to the world. Based on details such as the need for wand permits, the strict laws separating wizards and No-Majs, and the ability to cast spells without speaking them aloud, we see that American wizards are much more cautious and sensitive about using magic. This can be tied back to the history of magic oppression in America with events such as the Salem Witch Trials. Throughout the series, the magic world is connected to the real world in new ways that aren’t seen in the original series.
There are magic locations, such as the wizarding speakeasy run by goblins, the circus on the streets of France, even Tina and Queenie’s apartment that bring the Wizarding World to life in a new way, going beyond a magic castle full of moving pictures and floating candles. And then there’s Newt’s suitcase. Stepping down inside leads to an entire world of possibilities, both for the story and for the world. More magic—more powerful magic—and more that can be done with the magic. Including the fantastic beasts.
Despite being separate from the main Grindelwald plot, these creatures continue to take the spotlight and help Newt in extraordinary ways. The Nifflers can track people and also take shiny objects that may be more important than originally believed. The Zouwu helps Newt and Tina escape from the French Ministry of Magic. Even tiny Pickett the Bowtruckle can get Newt out of pinch with his lockpicking ability. While the beasts may seem insignificant compared to the grand schemes of Grindelwald, they prove time and time again that simple things—such as magical critters—may have more to them than meets the eye.
The characters are morally gray.
It’s obvious that Grindelwald is the villain of this series. He’s the “Voldemort” of the past, but where Voldemort fails to win over the whole crowd, Grindelwald’s “silver tongue” is convincing. We know that he’s the villain, but he makes valid points about the world as well. The need to belong, to be equal, to be understood, to have freedoms. His goal is to achieve a benevolent society where wizards rule. Despite that we are rooting for Newt and Dumbledore to save the day, we understand why Credence or Queenie or the any number of other wizards make the choice to join Grindelwald.
In Harry Potter, things are much more black and white. Yeah, there are some gray areas, especially in regards to Severus Snape or Sirius Black, but overall, we understand Voldemort is bad and Hogwarts and Harry are good. We root for Harry and his friends. We don’t agree with Voldemort’s path because it’s based solely on an obsession for power. We dislike any characters—such as the Malfoys or Bellatrix—that join his side. We know the good guys from the bad.
But the real world is full of morally gray choices all the time. A good story reflects those choices, successfully bringing the audience into the story in a way they can relate to it. No, I have never been faced with the choice to join a dark wizard on his quest to take over the magic world. But I make choices every day that affect my desire to be understood, to belong. Fantastic Beasts centers its story on these kinds of choices—choices to act or not act, choices to join or refuse, choices to be compassionate and kind or to be angry and unsettled. It connects the audience to the story in a greater way since we don’t always know if the characters will make the obviously correct choice.
Sure, we wouldn’t have Fantastic Beasts without Harry Potter and its worldwide popularity. I’m not saying you need to throw out all your Harry Potter books and merch to make room for only Fantastic Beasts. But maybe Fantastic Beasts is the gateway to a better story, a more improved world and cast of characters. Fantastic Beasts is our transition from a childhood at Hogwarts to the adult Wizarding World, where things may be darker but we just need to remember to turn on the light.