In Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the teaching position of Defense Against the Dark Arts is known to be cursed, as no teacher ever makes it past one year without being plagued by scandal, bad luck and strange magic.
One can make the argument that the Fantastic Beasts franchise is beset by a similar curse. The franchise had a promising start, with a generally well-received film that was regarded as good, if not quite reaching the heights of Harry Potter. JK Rowling, the original author of the series, was the screenwriter of the new film franchise, blessed with creative freedom and 4 more films to tell an interesting tale, jumping off the momentum of a series of uber-successful blockbusters based on one of the most popular children’s books ever written. What could possibly go wrong?
Two fatal errors were made at the end of the franchise’s first film, concerning the dark wizard Grindelwald. First, the character unmasked his Colin Farrell face to reveal Johnny Depp, playing yet another eccentric with silly hair, a schtick that audiences didn’t seem to care for anymore, after years of watching Jack Sparrow fade into a listless self-parody. Grindelwald’s presence split the story in two, as the whimsical adventures with magical creatures combined with a tale of how the wizarding world … descended into fascism? The sequel saw the franchise become needlessly dark, featuring references to the Holocaust and babies being murdered, clashing with the original “magical creatures are on the loose!” premise of the franchise; the two storylines never merged into a cohesive whole, melting into an incomprehensible puddle.
Offscreen, the casting of Johnny Depp brought controversy to the franchise, as Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard became embroiled in one of Hollywood’s ugliest divorces, with accusations of domestic abuse coming from both sides, sparking bitter legal battles that are still ongoing. Ezra Miller, another star of the film, invited more controversy to Fantastic Beasts, as a video that appeared to show Miller choking a young fan went viral in 2020. Ahead of the upcoming release of the third film, Miller has been arrested for harassment in Hawaii, and faced a restraining order from a couple who claim Miller broke into their apartment and threatened to kill them.
Much of the film’s target demographic are young and socially conscious, and these controversies cast a dark shadow over the film. But the bad press was just beginning, as JK Rowling seemed to have a political awakening after the release of the second film; Rowling began publicly campaigning against trans rights in the UK, sparking a controversy that has since dominated the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts fandoms, which tend to be very LGBT-friendly. The general audience likely doesn’t care too much about these controversies, but the online fandom, who market the film organically via infectious enthusiasm, have been disappointed and discouraged.
Even Rowling doesn’t seem to believe in her own film; on Twitter, Rowling has barely mentioned Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, instead, dedicating her online presence to discussing genitalia, chromosomes, and access to public bathrooms. The lack of enthusiasm all around has led to Warner Bros. questioning their investment in the series; the studio is reportedly waiting to see how The Secrets of Dumbledore performs before greenlighting the next two films in the franchise. Without the familiar faces of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World has proved to be a bit of a damp squib; Rowling is no Tolkien, and her poorly thought-out worldbuilding has sparked more criticism than wonder, as fans question her inclusion of a slave race that loves being enslaved, and a race of greedy, hook-nosed bankers that appear to be based on anti-Semitic stereotypes.