Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The first book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series hit shelves in 1997, launching one of the most popular worldwide phenomenons of modern culture. The Harry Potter seven-book series wrapped up a decade later, while the final movie in Warner Bros’ eight-film franchise hit theaters in 2011. Since then, the story of Rowling’s wizarding world has continued in the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as well as the first film in a new blockbuster series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Rather than continue the stories of any main characters from the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts is set long before Harry, Hermione, and Ron battled Voldemort. The new film follows magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who spends much of the movie tracking down magical creatures that escaped from his care with the help of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). However, throughout their attempts to find the creatures, the quartet cross paths with the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA — the American equivalent of Britain’s Ministry of Magic.
As it stands, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them doesn’t have an obvious villain through the majority of the movie. Certainly, the MACUSA are an antagonist of sorts given their belief that magical creatures endanger the Statute of Secrecy and, as a result, the safety of the entire American Wizarding community. This makes Newt, and his friends, criminals in the eyes of the MACUSA. Additionally, it could be argued that the MACUSA’s fear of being discovered — exacerbated by the New Salem Philanthropic Society (a fanatical group of No-Majs who want to expose and destroy wizards) — causes President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and her Aurors to use unnecessary violence against one creature in particular.
That said, it’s established early in the film that the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has led a number of attacks across Europe and generated worldwide fear within wizarding communities — it’s additionally revealed he evaded capture prior to the movie’s beginning and has gone underground. In the final act of Fantastic Beasts, though, it’s revealed that Grindelwald has been hiding among the ranks of the MACUSA as Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) — with only Newt being able to recognize and reveal the infamous dark wizard. So, who is Gellert Grindelwald and how does Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them establish the dark wizard as the overarching villain of the new five-film franchise?
Gellert Grindelwald’s History
Harry Potter fans learned a significant amount about Grindelwald during the final book/movies in the main series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Within the world of Harry Potter, Grindelwald was the most famous dark wizard prior to the rise of Voldemort. Born near the end of the 19th Century, Grindelwald attended the wizarding school of Durmstrang Institute, but was expelled before graduation due to “twisted experiments.”
As fans learned, Harry’s mentor Albus Dumbledore shared a friendship with Grindelwald when both men were young, in the summer of 1899. The two met after Grindelwald’s expulsion when he became obsessed with the Deathly Hallows and his pursuit of the magical artifacts — the Elder Wand, the Cloak of Invisibility, and the Resurrection Stone — led him Godric’s Hollow, the home of Albus and the Dumbledore family. The men entertained plans to abolish the wizarding world’s Statute of Secrecy in order to rule over Muggles, No-Majs, and other non-magic folk as benevolent overlords. They coined the slogan that became synonymous with Grindelwald’s revolution, “For the greater good,” while the wizard additionally appropriated the symbol of the Deathly Hallows as his own.
However, as it was revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s friendship was short-lived. The pair became estranged after a three-way duel between the two and Albus’ younger brother Aberforth that ended in the death of their younger sister Ariana. Grindelwald fled Godric’s Hollow, and spent the following 27 years — until 1926 when Fantastic Beasts takes place — drumming up support for his revolution in addition to searching for the Deathly Hallows.
As revealed in Fantastic Beasts, though, he had gone to ground after escaping from capture. But, it’s unclear when Grindelwald went underground and, until the end of the movie, how he escaped detection for so long.
Who is Percival Graves?
Introduced early in Fantastic Beasts, Graves is the mysterious Director of Magical Security for the MACUSA — essentially, he’s Head Auror — and is tasked with locating Newt and his friends after they escape imprisonment. In an official release from Warner Bros on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Farrell described the character:
“Graves has his own ideology about the segregation between wizards and No-Majs. The fact that wizards have been repressed and forced to live in the shadows eats away at him. To him, it’s an injustice. Even those at MACUSA don’t know much about Graves.”
Of course, after the revelation that Graves is Grindelwald, the character’s motivation and ideology become clear. Throughout the movie, Graves is shown manipulating Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) — a Second Salemer that Graves/Grindelwald believes to be a squib — in order to find out the human identity of the Obscurus that is terrorizing New York City and threatening the secrecy of the American Wizarding society. It’s probable, given Grindelwald’s attacks in Europe and his distaste for the Statute of Secrecy, he planned to use the Obscurus as a weapon of sorts in addition to a means in which he would reveal the existence of Wizards to the world at large.
But, one question likely on the minds of viewers after Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is whether or not Percival Graves truly exists, or if he is a character created by Grindelwald to escape detection. The movie leaves it unclear; certainly, fans may theorize Grindelwald is holding the real Graves hostage in order to maintain his identity through Polyjuice potion (a situation along the lines of Barty Crouch Jr. and Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
However, it may be more likely that Grindelwald created the persona of Graves and embedded himself within the MACUSA’s ranks prior to the start of Fantastic Beasts. The mysteriousness of Graves could be because the man doesn’t really exist — or, at least, he didn’t exist until Grindelwald created him. Although, arguably, if Graves did exist and was simply an enigmatic man, it may have simply made him a more easy target for the dark wizard.
Some fans may even theorize that Grindelwald takes on Graves’ persona at some point in the movie — there is a point when Graves becomes more desperate and manipulative of Credence that could perhaps lend validation to such a theory. That said, during a round table interview for Fantastic Beasts attended by Screen Rant, Miller revealed he was not made aware of any such transition:
“I do not know. It wasn’t scripted. If there’s a transitional point, we were never told about it. But, that does not mean that it didn’t happen, because we were not told about a lot of things.”
So, considering how little is known about Graves and his life before fans meet him in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s unclear when or how Grindelwald became Graves. But, looking forward to the remaining four films in Warner Bros and Rowling’s planned series, it’s clear that Fantastic Beasts establishes Grindelwald as the main overarching villain.
Grindelwald as the Fantastic Beasts Series’ Main Villain
Prior to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it was reported that Johnny Depp had been cast in an unspecified, but co-starring role for the sequel — with rumors pointing toward him playing Grindelwald and appearing in the first film. Now that Fantastic Beasts has been released, confirming Grindelwald as the real villain of the film, it’s safe to say the movie’s four sequels will follow the dark wizard’s continued rise to power as well as his eventual defeat.
In the weeks leading up to the first film’s release, those close to the series revealed plenty of information about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2 that offers more insight into future installments. For instance, director David Yates confirmed a younger version of Dumbledore will appear in the sequel; he additionally said Dumbledore will have scenes with Newt. Furthermore, Yates revealed there will be fewer magical creatures in the sequel, and it will take place in Europe — specifically, Britain and France. Most importantly, though, Rowling confirmed the timeline of the Fantastic Beasts series will conclude in 1945, the year Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald.
Based on what has been revealed about Grindelwald within the Harry Potter mythos, little is known about the dark wizard’s life from 1926-1945. Dumbledore, meanwhile, was a professor of Transfiguration at Hogwarts — in fact, it’s during this period that Dumbledore recruited and taught Tom Marvolo Riddle, the boy who would become Lord Voldemort. However, as Grindelwald amassed more and more power in the 1940s, Dumbledore grew increasingly aware he was the only wizard capable of defeating his old friend. In 1945, Dumbledore finally dueled Grindelwald, winning the match (and taking control of the Elder Wand).
Considering the timeline of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, it seems all but officially confirmed that Grindelwald will be the overarching villain, as Voldemort was in the Harry Potter series. Presumably, Newt will travel to Hogwarts in the second film and reunite with Dumbledore — either for help with Grindelwald or something else. Rowling recently offered insight into Dumbledore’s character in the second movie, saying he’s “quite a troubled man” at that point in his life. So, it may be the case that Fantastic Beasts follows the younger version of Dumbledore through this part of his life, in addition to offering flashbacks to his friendship with Grindelwald.
But, with so little known about the lives of Dumbledore and Grindelwald at the time of the Fantastic Beasts movies, there is plenty to be revealed in upcoming installments of the Harry Potter prequel series. That said, although the new series may have begun with a film titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s clear the new wizarding world films will shift their focus to the rise of one of the most powerful dark wizards in history — second only to Voldemort. Of course, Voldemort may even appear at some point in the new franchise. But, make no mistake, Gellert Grindelwald is the real villain of the Fantastic Beasts franchise.