Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a hit with audiences—$814 million worldwide is nothing to sneeze at—but it felt like an inessential addition to such a rich mythology. When J.K. Rowling revealed her plans for a five-picture series, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes obnoxiously at the thought of even more magical creature recovery hijinx. But when Warner Bros. dropped a new trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald at San Diego Comic Con, I was pleasantly surprised (and humbled). This movie looked like a darker and more recognizable corner of Rowling’s Wizarding World, far more appealing than the slapstick-heavy throat-clearing that was the first movie.
That’s when I realized: the tighter the Fantastic Beasts series intertwines itself with Harry Potter history, the better it’s going to get.
Normally, when a prequel or reboot or spinoff comes along, we bemoan Hollywood for its lack of originality. In that sense, Fantastic Beasts, which bore few connections to the “current” timeline Potter Heads know all too well, was something different. But given the expansiveness of Rowling’s world and the rich mine of mythology from which to pull from, that disconnect ended up hurting the film. It’s a mistake The Crimes of Grindelwald looks to correct.
The sequel will follow Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) once again as he is recruited by a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to combat the growing threat of the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and his followers who are pushing for a war between magic and muggles. This is a noticeably upped ante from the first film, which felt like a game of runaway zoo animals, and far more familiar territory for Harry Potter fans.
As you can see above, the trailer opens in Hogwarts, and while fans shouldn’t expect the setting to play a significant role in the sequel, there’s something elementally exciting about returning to the main series’ primary setting. We all have wished, at one time or another, that an owl-delivered letter would show up at our doorsteps whisking us away to a far off and magical realm. That’s the type of nostalgia-fueled feeling a marketing department wants to instill.
The primary conflict of the sequel will be ripe for gaining a better understanding of how the world reached the point it did when the Harry Potter series began—a recovering populace still in the shadow of the tragedies of the Voldemort era.
Grindelwald was considered an Adolf Hitler-esque genocidal dark wizard who wanted to cleanse the world of all but pure blood witches and wizards. Before that, however, he was a childhood friend of Dumbledore’s, with the future Headmaster of Hogwarts actually falling in love with Grindelwald, though those feelings may not have been reciprocated. While Law and director David Yates have said that The Crimes of Grindelwald will not explicitly explore Dumbledore’s sexuality, there seems to be hints of it in the trailer, such as when he says he can’t move against Grindelwald and when he sees him in the Mirror of Erised.
What I also did not remember from the books and needed to go down the rabbit hole of Potter-Wiki to re-discover is that a duel between Albus, his brother Aberforth and Grindelwald led to the unintentional death of Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana. After the incident, Grindelwald escaped and went on to become a powerful magical revolutionary with his dark quest setting the stage for Voldemort’s rise and altering the course of Dumbledore’s life forever. The grey-bearded lovable sage we meet in Sorcerer’s Stone would not go on to defeat Grindelwald until 1945 (the sequel takes place in 1927, a few months after the first film).
To understand how World War II came about, one would need to study the fallout and subsequent developments that followed World War I. Similarly, to better know the climate of the Harry Potter conflicts, the Grindelwald saga is necessary source material.
Other connections to the main saga include the introduction of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who was seen briefly in a photograph in the first film and who is being set up as a former love interest of Newt’s (and is now engaged to Newt’s brother Theseus). Fans should recognize her surname as belonging to the infamous Lestrange family, Voldemort supporters who received a boost in cruelty after Bellatrix Black married into the gene pool. It’s unclear where Leta stands in terms of the magic vs. muggle battle, but her inclusion should provide more insight into one of the marquee magical families. It’s kind of like introducing a Lannister ancestor in one of those upcoming Game of Thrones prequel spinoffs.
Elsewhere, Nicholas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) makes an appearance, who fans may know as the creator of the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s unclear what kind of role he’ll play in the movie, but we assume he’s on the side of the good guys. Perhaps he can shed additional light on the Deathly Hallows and Dumbledore’s eventual ownership of the Elder Wand.
Regardless of how these many moving pieces are used, it’s encouraging to see them on the board in The Crimes of Grindelwald. The downside of prequels is that we already know how the stories will play out. But the upside is that these individuals and plots all have reverberating repercussions that make themselves known throughout the main Harry Poter stories. That connection immediately gives the movie a greater sense of importance in my mind and enables audiences to play along with each reference and Easter egg gently folded in there.
Lean into the Harry Potter world, Warner Bros. It’s the greatest resource Fantastic Beasts can use.