by Rob DiCristino
Note: Wizarding World spoilers ahead. Second Note: Fuck J.K. Rowling.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s* Stone is a tale as old as time, a classic hero’s journey about a misbegotten young orphan who discovers that he is the heir to an ancient power. That power is rooted in a world beyond his imagination, an entire universe of magic and wonders populated by new allies and dangerous adversaries through which Harry will eventually meet his noble destiny. As Harry grows throughout the series, that universe rises to meet him, expanding in fascinating directions that directly parallel his development from callow boy into righteous hero: The school-age hijinks of the first two novels give way to The Prisoner of Azkaban, which brings Harry face-to-face with his family’s legacy for the first time. The Goblet of Fire is a puberty story chronicling Harry’s tumultuous foray into adolescence. The Order of the Phoenix is about teenage angst, about the frustration we feel when the adults around us won’t listen. It all culminates with The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry (literally) vanquishes his childhood trauma and transforms from a boy into a man.
Instead, the Fantastic Beasts trilogy — which culminates this week with The Secrets of Dumbledore — is an unruly slog, a directionless trek through a world we vaguely recognize but for which we have zero emotional investment. Picking up where the Star Wars prequels left off, it’s a series of overstuffed would-be adventures that lack that centering force of character, that unique point of view that might have helped us wade through all the obtuse politics and sinister grandstanding. There’s zero doubt that Newt Scamander had the makings of a compelling protagonist: The sheepish and mildly-autistic Hufflepuff’s mission to research, catalog, and protect magical creatures is the perfect catalyst for stories that would add texture and history to the Wizarding World in which Harry Potter would later live. But rather than developing Scamander as a protagonist, Rowling and co-writer Steve Kloves almost immediately background him in favor of Albus Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) rivalry with the uncompromising wizard Hitler, Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen).
*”Philosopher’s” for our more refined, non-American friends