Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Directed by: David Yates
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

I still remember the hype surrounding “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, the excitement towards seeing one of the most notorious wizards in J.K. Rowling’s magical universe taking the screen, especially after the reveal in the previous film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Then it hit theaters and the response was lukewarm at best, at worst it was called the end of the franchise. Now we have the series’ third film, that’s three of five films (for anyone keeping score), “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”, and while it does share many issues with “Crimes of Grindelwald”, there are glimmers of coherence and possible greatness throughout, there are frequent times where the film nearly caves in on itself because of its complexity. Not complexity in its usual form, philosophical themes, etc. Instead illusions of grandeur plague “Secrets of Dumbledore” like the blood vow that the titular character has wrapped around his physical and mental body for most of the film. These illusions rip the limits of reality away as we are introduced to more subplots, a very uneven tone, and going back and forth between characters that you shouldn’t care about, but do, and characters that you should care about, but don’t. The most egregious example is the “lead” of this series, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander.

It’s not clear whether time has passed since the last time we saw our merry gang of witches and wizards, but one thing is for sure, we now know the biggest question in the Wizarding World universe “How did Harry Potter come up with the name “Dumbledore’s Army”? Well, here it is folks, the OG “Dumbledore’s Army”. One thing is for sure, our gang is back together and they are as poorly written as ever, sans Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, he is the standout here, bringing more emotional depth in one scene than Redmayne’s Scamander does in the whole series. Going against our fellowship of witches, wizards, and the best baker in Queens is the ever-so-lovely Gellert Grindelwald (this time being played by Mads Mikkelsen, who by appearing in a studio film again can now go back to Denmark and make his “strange indie stuff” that I will be first in line to see). Along with Grindelwald is Credence Barebone (portrayed by Ezra Miller, no comment), and the love of Jacob Kowalski, Queenie Goldstein (portrayed by a heartbreaking Alison Sudol). This leads to the film forcing an emotional confrontation because “the bad guy has the one guy’s girl and is taking advantage of an orphan and we gotta save them!”

The tone has always been the enemy of “Fantastic Beasts” from the start. Even in the first film where the tone is its most consistent (and that’s not saying much), we are introduced to whimsical animals then get thrown into a story about the beginnings of the worst wizard ever, throwing in a possessed boy, add in a few bits with Jacob Kowalski being fish-out-of-water and it’s still pretty mixed. This has snowballed into the storylines either being funny or serious, surprisingly, they mesh better here, particularly going back and forth between a tender and funny bit with Newt Scamander and his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner, who has a much larger role here, and it is very welcome) and the more emotionally heavy story of Jacob seeing Queenie again for the first time since “Crimes of Grindelwald.” At the head of these storylines is Grindelwald’s overall goal, a war between the wizarding community and muggles (non-magic folk). And if you think they skip the chance to throw in as much Nazi-esque imagery, you’d be wrong. From the scenes in Berlin to the ideology of Grindelwald, the creatives behind the camera must have obliviated the word “subtle” from their minds.

What is the real reason for the appeal of these movies? Is it the acting? No, Eddie Redmayne continues to get more awkward the more he is on screen, and sans a handful of scenes, to the point, that he becomes a nuisance. Jude Law, Dan Fogler, and Mads Mikkelsen are the only people in the ensemble to turn in commendable performances, Law’s vulnerability, particularly in the opening scene, Fogler’s raw emotion mixed with his humor is consistently working throughout the franchise, and Mikkelsen proves once again he plays one of the best villains in Hollywood today. Is it the writing? Nope, J.K. Rowling is writing these films like books, but forgetting that film is a medium that does have a cap, there’s only so much you can stuff into it. It’s the action within this world, and while it is few and far between here, it is visually stunning, even without the necessary emotional depth, particularly in the duel between Credence and Albus, that there is in the duel between Grindewald and Dumbledore. The relationship between Dumbledore and Grindewald is at the forefront throughout and it is one of the finest aspects of this film. Unfortunately “Secrets of Dumbledore” falls into the same trap that “Crimes of Grindewald” and that’s being more overstuffed than Niffler in the Lestrange vault at Gringotts. 

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” Trailer

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is in wide theatrical release.

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