FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE Review; "The Wizarding World Feels Far From Magical At This Point"

Ahead of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore's release in theaters this Easter weekend, we're sharing our thoughts on a movie that serves as yet another disappointing chapter in the franchise...

Reviews Opinion

Way back in 2016, we called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them "one of 2016’s best blockbusters" and said it felt like a "fantastic start to what looks set to be a franchise every bit as exciting as, and perhaps more so, than Harry Potter." How wrong we were. Two years later, we’d describe The Crimes of Grindelwald as "a massive disappointment," and concluded by acknowledging that "the prospect of having to sit through three movie movies before this story is completed is downright depressing." Four years later, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore has arrived, and while it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor, the thought of sitting through two more chapters in this story remains an unappealing one, especially as this bumbling, often befuddling middle chapter proves this story is already running low on magic. Trying to describe what happens is easier said than done as there isn’t much of a plot to speak of, while what story we do get feels like an odd mixture of disparate elements that never quite gel and leaves us wishing The Secrets of Dumbledore had remained, well, secret. 

In fairness, Jude Law remains a clear standout as Albus Dumbledore, and the franchise finally acknowledges his sexuality in a way that, while not particularly powerful or impactful, at least fleshes out his past and makes his attempts to stop Gellert Grindelwald feel a great deal more personal. The reveal, while welcomed, ultimately feels a too perfunctory, but with Johnny Depp no longer playing just another Johnny Depp character (he’s not missed here), Law now has a terrific co-star to bounce off in Mads Mikkelsen. There’s real chemistry between the two actors, and while very little about Grindelwald's plan in this movie makes sense, Law and Mikkelsen’s scenes are an undeniable highlight. 

Talking of Depp makes us instantly think about actors who repeatedly deliver the same performance in different roles, and we definitely get more of the same with Eddie Redmayne here as the socially awkward, nebbish magizoologist. Unfortunately, the titular Fantastic Beasts continue to be sidelined, and there’s not much room for Newt Scamander to be explored in a way that’s anything more than a surface level. Within the first ten minutes, two of the aforementioned beasts are brutally killed - not quite what we’re looking for from a franchise that has introduced us to so many adorable creatures in the Wizarding World. There are a handful of great moments with Newt’s menagerie, but they’re no longer the focus of this story, which leaves this threequel without the charm of that memorable opening chapter. It’s a real shame, and while this exploration of Dumbledore’s past and this magical world’s history is enjoyable, we can’t help but think it might have been better to separate these stories across two individual franchises. 

There’s not much to say about the rest of the cast; outside of Law and Mikkelsen, no one gets much to do, though Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski has well and truly outstayed his welcome by this point. Callum Turner is a definite highlight as Theseus Scamander, though the same can’t be said for most of the supporting cast. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore certainly doesn’t feel like the showcase of great British talent the Harry Potter series was, and fails its international cast with thankless roles. Richard Coyle does a fine job as Aberforth Dumbledore, but Ezra Miller, sidelined here after the last movie’s big Dumbledore reveal in a truly baffling about-turn for the series, is shockingly unimportant. Credence has always been one of the least popular additions to the Wizarding World, but to see him become such a non-factor just makes no sense (the same could be said for Nagini’s baffling disappearance). 

J.K. Rowling is a great author who created a truly spellbinding world with Harry Potter, but even a helping hand from screenwriter Steve Kloves doesn’t enhance this movie’s script. Plotlines from previous instalments are disregarded, as are those within this movie (a method of seeing the future proves to be incredibly important until it isn’t). There are plenty of forced references to the Wizarding World Potter fans actually care about - "Hey, it’s Hogwarts! And a young Minerva McGonagall! Oh, and that’s a Snitch!" - but they only serve to make us wish we were watching another story set in the magical school. Less a deepening of the mythology and more a way of stretching it out to the point we no longer care, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’s main redeeming features are some inventive action scenes and incredible visuals that serve as a fun reminder of how magical this world can be. They're few and far between in the overlong threequel, though, and David Yates remains a mostly unremarkable director, making this world feel oddly murky and ordinary.

There was really nowhere for this series to go but up after that awful second chapter, and it would probably be best for everyone if the next movie is the last one, finally wrapping up a story that, while never wholly essential, now feels like it never should have been told in the first place. We wanted to like this movie, and there are moments here to love, but such blatant disregard for the previous chapters (apparent damage control after The Crimes of Grindelwald underwhelmed) and what feels like lazy, muddled storytelling from all involved results in a film that can only be described as a disappointment. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore allows Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen to shine, but lazy, inconsistent storytelling leaves us weary at the prospect of two more movies in a corner of the Wizarding World that feels far from magical at this point.


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