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Why 'Fantastic Beasts 2' Needs to Beware the Dumbledore Factor

The ongoing narrative of the Fantastic Beasts series may present Rowling and Yates with a difficult challenge.

Dumbledore in 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

The Harry Potter franchise may be 20 years old, but last year's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them breathed new life into it. We were introduced to a whole new group of heroes, with Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander taking center stage. Now, excitement is gearing up for the sequel, as we launch ourselves on an arc that will span 19 years.

A new synopsis has been released.

Over the weekend, Warner Bros. released a synopsis for Fantastic Beasts 2 that teases a major role for one particularly well-known character:

"J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay for the film, which opens in 1927, a few months after Newt helped to unveil and capture the infamous Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. However, as he promised he would, Grindelwald has made a dramatic escape and has been gathering more followers to his cause—elevating wizards above all non-magical beings.
"The only one who might be able to stop him is the wizard he once called his dearest friend, Albus Dumbledore. But Dumbledore will need help from the wizard who had thwarted Grindelwald once before, his former student Newt Scamander. The adventure reunites Newt with Tina, Queenie and Jacob, but his mission will also test their loyalties as they face new perils in an increasingly dangerous and divided wizarding world. The film expands the wizarding world, moving from New York to London and on to Paris. There are also some surprising nods to the Harry Potter stories that will delight fans of the books and film series."

Promising to reunite the first film's cast, the sequel will also introduce us to a younger Albus Dumbledore, portrayed by none other than Jude Law. With J. K. Rowling herself writing the script, and David Yates continuing his run as director, the film is sure to be a hit. And yet, I can't help sounding a note of caution...

Why Dumbledore Could Be a Problem

The ongoing narrative of the #FantasticBeasts series is going to present Rowling and Yates with a difficult challenge. We already know that the overall arc is going to take 19 years, meaning the series ends in 1945. That, as any Harry Potter fan will know, is the year of Dumbledore's famous duel with Grindelwald.

We first heard about that duel all the way back in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry read the back of a Chocolate Frog card:

"Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and ten-pin bowling."

It wasn't until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that Rowling revisited that legendary wizard's duel, and revealed the secret history that tied Dumbledore to Grindelwald. Most fans will be expecting that duel to be the climax of the Fantastic Beasts series. In narrative terms, though, that leaves Rowling with a real issue.

One of the reasons fans loved the Harry Potter franchise was because they were tightly-focused, only exploring the world through Harry's eyes. The films extended this a little, giving us some scenes from the perspective of Ron and Hermione, but mostly kept to Harry's perspective. Fantastic Beasts followed a similar pattern, making Newt the focal character (appropriately enough, given the film's title), with few deviations from his perspective. Rowling set up her new ensemble with her customary skill, and they were roundly praised by fans and critics alike.

Dumbledore's story risks changing that. With that fateful duel against Grindelwald in the offing, it's going to be a difficult challenge for Rowling to prevent Dumbledore from taking over the narrative; especially as this synopsis for Fantastic Beasts 2 makes the film sound like it's almost Dumbledore's origin story! The danger is that the beloved ensemble, the stars of the first film, will fall to the background.

Not only would this be a mistake from a narrative perspective, it would also be a very risky move for the franchise's future. An increasing focus on Dumbledore means that Johnny Depp's Grindelwald will become an ever more important part of the narrative, and that particular casting choice may well be a misstep. Regardless of what you think about Jonny Depp personally, or your opinions on his high-profile marital abuse case last year, it's hard to deny that Depp simply isn't the bankable megastar he once was. In a cutting editorial published a few days ago, the New York Post went so far as to ask why Johnny Depp still has a career at all. They noted:

"I don’t care how beautiful a film “Edward Scissorhands” was. It came out 27 years ago. “Mortdecai” was released two years ago, and it was so bad that it should have finished off a good man’s career.
Depp’s been given plenty of chances to be above average. Why are we making so many excuses for the guy who brought us “The Lone Ranger,” “Dark Shadows” and “The Tourist”?"

When you consider Depp's more recent performances, it's hard to argue that the New York Post doesn't have a point.

Making matters even more difficult, I suspect that — however beloved the cast of Fantastic Beasts may be — fans are more invested in Albus Dumbledore than we are in Newt Scamander. There's going to be real pressure for Rowling to reorient the series around Dumbledore, but that's not a good move in narrative terms, nor is it a wise decision in light of the casting.

J. K. Rowling has set herself a difficult challenge. With this series of movies ending in 1945, it's hard to see how she can avoid Dumbledore gradually taking over the plot; we know what's coming, and we're thrilled at the idea of seeing one of the ultimate wizard's duels. But somehow, Rowling and Yates have to balance this against the need to keep focused on the stars of last year's Fantastic Beasts. I have every confidence they can pull it off, but frankly I'm going to be fascinated to see how they do it.

(Source: New York Post)

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