Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE Leaves the Series in a Precarious Position
With the exhaustive, exhausting conclusion of the epic-length, eight-part Harry Potter film series more than a decade ago, Warner Bros., like every intellectual property-dependent studio before and since, found itself at a crossroads.
How best to exploit the underlying source material, keep moviegoers interested, engaged, and most importantly, financially invested in the so-called Wizarding World Universe without alienating them? Warner Bros. went where every movie studio since immemorial has gone before, embracing the prequel/spin-off approach to keeping a franchise viable, mixing younger, preexisting characters and story elements with newly created characters and another overarching plot involving a dark, evil wizard bent on world domination and/or making the world safe for magically empowered wizards to go about their business openly as “homo superior magicus.”
After finding fantastic beasts (Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them), and then the crimes of a dark, evil, proto-Voldemort wizard (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), it was inevitable that secrets would be, if nothing else, discovered and/or revealed (Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore).
Those hyped-up secrets, such as they’re revealed in the series’s third entry, prove to be far less world-breaking, let alone world-shaking, than controversial author/screenwriter, J.K. Rowling, her longtime screenwriting partner, Steve Kloves, or Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter director, David Yates, apparently imagined them to be. They’re more of the “So what? Is that all there is?” variety.
In fact, those Dumbledore-related secrets aren’t really secrets at all. Rowling revealed Dumbledore’s sexual orientation long ago, initially as a marginal note that did little, if anything, to change the character or how readers perceived his behavior.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore only reaffirms it in an early scene between Dumbledore (Jude Law), and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing the tired and fired Johnny Depp) in a restaurant scene that’s meant to reveal why Dumbledore and Grindelwald, onetime best friends and occasional lovers, became bitter enemies. Again, no secrets there.
Ever the pro-Muggle (non-magical humans) advocate, Dumbledore only wanted peaceful coexistence between Muggles and wizards while Grindelwald, channeling his inner Magneto, wanted (and continues to want) the exact opposite. While the scene foregrounds their intimate relationship in no uncertain terms, it adds nothing to what audiences already know about these characters or their decades-old conflict.
After all, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ended with the promise (or threat) of a wizard-on-wizard war between two ideologically opposed sides. Instead, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore frustratingly hits the rewind button, all but returning to the status quo before Grindelwald’s escape and the trail of bodies he left behind.
He’s still free, living comfortably in a multi-room, mountainside castle with a retinue of followers and hangers-on he dispatches on occasion on covert mission to locate and retrieve magical artifacts or magical beasties. He’s also still feeding Credence Barebone / Aurelius Dumbledore (Ezra Miller), apparently the sulking, brooding, Kylo Ren-inspired character of the series, fact-free stories about how the Dumbledore family abandoned young Aurelius out of cruelty or malice as an infant to a life of poverty and physical abuse.
While Grindelwald deliberately puts Aurelius on a collision course with Albus and the Dumbledore family, Dumbledore sends a super-secret task force consisting of series regular and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), Newt’s estranged brother and an Auror (law enforcer) for Britain’s Ministry of Magic, Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams), an American wizard and teacher, Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a Brit-born wizard with an uncertain role in the proceedings, and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-magical human who still pines for his ex-turned-Grindelwald ally, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), on a globe-trotting mission to uncover and possibly stop Grindelwald’s latest plan, this time to manipulate an upcoming wizards-only election for purposes nefarious and otherwise. (Queenie’s sister and Newt’s paramour, Tina [Katherine Waterston] remains offscreen for most of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’s running time.)
Where Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald seemed like all prologues, involving minimal stakes, and even less of a resolution (all, of course, to set up the next sequel in the series), Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore does almost nothing to advance the overarching plot, exchanging one low-stakes scenario for another, and once again punting the resolution of the Dumbledore-Grindelwald conflict to the next film (if any). Where, at least, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them felt like a complete, standalone story (sequel set-up aside), Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore feels like filler, a middling, middle chapter in an ongoing story or saga produced primarily to get to the next chapter and the one after that.
The film never escapes that encroaching sense of disappointment, but where it falters and fails story-wise, it almost (operative word being “almost”) makes up for its shortcomings on the visual, non-narrative side. Like every previous production in the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts series, Warner Bros. has spared practically no expense in bringing Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore to the big screen. Everything from the period production design (gorgeous, sumptuous, etc.) to costuming (same), and visual effects-filled set pieces (among the best money can buy) function as surface-deep distractions that provide momentary, transitory thrills. For some fans, that just might be enough.
One scene in particular features Newt’s comical, if eventually effective, attempt to break out another character from a maximum security prison in Germany. Given that we’re in the magical, non-human side of the wizarding world, this isn’t a prison like anything we’ve ever seen so far in or out of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts series (e.g., Azkaban).
To say more would spoil what turns out to be a major highpoint in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Nothing before or after matches that scene for inventiveness, physical humor, or borderline horror. It’s all downhill from there, a depressing sign of what awaits fans if and when Warner Bros. green-lights the final two entries in the Fantastic Beasts series.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore opens Friday, April 8 in the UK, and Friday, April 15 in North America. For locations, showtimes and ticket information, visit the respective official sites: UK, Canada, US.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
- David Yates
- J.K. Rowling
- Steve Kloves
- Mads Mikkelsen
- Ezra Miller
- Katherine Waterston