I have made it no secret that I have a rather neutral, leaning-negative, perception of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Several weeks back, I had the "pleasure" of reviewing the third film in the franchise and while I will admit that I enjoyed it significantly more than its predecessors, even then I noted that it had a tremendous amount of problems attached to it that were simply systemic of the franchise as a concept.
Which is a real shame because I absolutely love the Harry Potter franchise and it made an incredible impact upon my childhood and teenage years. The world-building was superb and was deeply connected to the characters that inhabited that. While I have grown to hold some reluctant hesitance with regards to uncomfortable subtext within the universe due to the reputation of the author, the series as a whole still holds up.
This enjoyment of Harry Potter, but general ambivalence towards Fantastic Beasts, has been a consistent mystery to me and motivated me to explore and figure out what about the prequel series has me so frustrated and disappointed. The conclusion I came to, and the solution that I would prefer, was something that I absolutely knew needed to be my next issue of Building Better Backstories, especially in the wake of The Secrets of Dumbledore. As you will see in the article below, that film had an element present that the other films were mostly missing. A crucial element that truly helps set the tone and genre of the Fantastic Beasts.
What's the Point of Newt Scamander? - An Issue of Tone and Genre
Fantastic Beasts - Harry Potter, Star Wars, & James Bond
The Star Wars films are fantasy space operas set in a science-fiction inspired universe. However, the various side-stories introduced in the new canon have enabled writers and creators to flex their muscles by shifting tone and experimenting with genre, to fantastic success. Of all the releases, The Mandalorian is probably the most popular. And it completely reexamined the Star Wars universe as a western film. There are tons of subtle contextual and subtextual themes and motifs of the Western genre present in The Mandalorian and it enabled a completely unique feel and narrative direction for the series that was completely different from and yet entirely within, the larger Star Wars mythos.
It is with this switch in genre that I believe the Fantastic Beasts might've been saved or improved. But not by switching the films genre to a Western, like The Mandalorian, but rather by shifting the genre to be more evocative of another quintessential British icon, the James Bond-style spy thriller. In fact, when one examines the underlying structure of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, all the elements of a James Bond film are already there.
A man with unique skills and an equally eclectic personality travels across the globe to achieve a certain mission and defeat a particular enemy, using strange technologies granted to him by his job. Often accompanied by a leading romantic love interest and a few humorous allies. With just a slight refocusing of the story to focus more on individual adventures around the globe, with only a passing mention of a wider inter-connected storyline, I could easily see Fantastic Beasts take on a spy thriller flair. And if you really want to include Grindelwald, you could include him as a Ernst Blofeld style villain, working in the shadows and as a manipulator of all of the individual adventures going on for Newt Scamander. And having Newt be your replacement for James Bond could actually allow for some very interesting and fun criticism of the more toxic elements of Bond's character.
I can just see it now. Newt Scamander travels the world to perform various tasks and assignments for Dumbledore and his allies, using his skills and genuine passion for magical beasts as a cover for his activities. On his first assignment in America, he joins forces with a Muggle to uncover some type of mass governmental conspiracy using a dangerous magical creature tied to a young Creedence Barebones. The plot could then be a hunt for the child as Newt is chased by the corrupt elements within the Wizarding government, only for the audience to discover that the corruption was masterminded by Grindelwald the entire time. And that would be the first film.
We could then have a second film that's completely different, set in France. I have no idea what this plot would likely entail but we could perhaps have a reveal of Grindelwald's organization towards the end of the film and the declaration of a shadow war between Dumbeldore's forces and Grindelwald's.
The third film's entire political election fraud scheme is actually rather good and I would leave that storyline largely intact, though I would have the film end with an actual declaration of war occurring between Grindelwald and the Wizarding world as the film's acutal villain is defeated and Grindelwald sees that he has no option for subtle fighting.
The fourth and fifth films could be set during the actual war and detail Scamander's efforts to combat attempts by Grindelwald's allies to destablize the world like you would expect from a Roger Moore-era James Bond film. At the end, if you really want to show the Dumbledore/Grindelwald fight, you can have it paired with a Scamander fight with whatever the villain du jour is for that film. Dumbledore can be your traditional wizard fight, where Scamander would fight with his magical beasts. Really setting the character apart from Bond's more traditionally macho aesthetic.
I mentioned it briefly above, but that difference between Bond and Scamander really would make the entire franchise from a thematic standpoint. Scamander is coded as on the spectrum and possesses many traits that are not traditionally masculine that make him singularly unique as a protagonist and to place him within the archetype of possibly the most traditionally toxic male in cinema would be subversive and fun in a very refreshing way, especially if you then counterpose him with more traditional archetypes like his brother Theseus and Grindelwald's supporters.
Plus switching the focus of the film back onto Scamander and his struggle with individual villains, will take focus away from Albus Dumbledore. Don't get me wrong, Jude Law is great. But Dumbledore feels like he is only in the film in order to connect the franchise to the original series and because Grindelwald's plot is going to be resolved through him. That's what really hurts Fantastic Beasts. In Harry Potter, you knew that Harry Potter would eventually defeat Voldemort. But in universe, Scamander has no role in Grindelwald's defeat so you know, no matter what Scamander does, he will eventually become a side character in his own goddamn series. Dumbledore should play a role as an M type figure, being Scamander's boss in this "proto-Order of the Phoenix" that would play the MI6 counterpart. And you could even have his fight with Grindelwald, but it shouldn't be thematically tied to the overall series. It should be secondary to whatever fight Scamander is having. Dumbledore and Grindelwald's fight should be a background set piece, maybe even impacting Scamander's fight to make it harder or easier. We know how that story ends, so it shouldn't be a point of tension, but a unique set element.
And that can be how the franchise ends. In truth, Dumbledore's fight doesn't need to even truly end in a way the audience can see, so long as Scamander defeats the enemy in his final fight. He could maybe even assist in some small way that is quintessentially Scamander. And then we can have him retire, marry the romantic lead and publish his adventures and magical studies.
And so much of this is honestly just off the top of my head.
As you can see, there is so much potential here. So much so, that I almost want to completely rewrite the entire Fantastic Beasts franchise. I've been thinking about doing a livestream talk show on Twitch or YouTube where I discuss or go into further detail then my articles. And this might very well be a topic worth going into further details.I really wanted to see more of J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World and was incredibly excited when Fantastic Beasts came out. But the issues with the franchise just really tapered much of my enthusiasm, to the point where I will likely only see the fourth and fifth film because I am literally obligated to do so. Maybe they will surprise me, but I honestly prefer to re-imagine what could've been, if the Fantastic Beasts franchise had been Rowling's attempt to make a Wizard spy thriller, rather than a weird proto-Harry Potter film that desperately wants to connect to the previous franchise rather than stand on its own two feet.