Banking on the huge success of Harry Potter, Warner Bros and JK Rowling are back with another movie series based on the wizard-world. Rather than continuing 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 magi zoologist 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.
For those who have seen the film or know about the series, they know that 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.
It’s cleared 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 recognise and reveal the infamous dark wizard.
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.
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 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 duelled Grindelwald, winning the match (and taking control of the Elder Wand). But, there is still little known about the lives of Dumbledore and Grindelwald at the time of the Fantastic Beasts movies and there is plenty to be revealed in upcoming instalments of the Harry Potter prequel series.
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.
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 terrorising 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.
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.
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.