Movie Reviews

A Step In The Right Direction For A Franchise Lacking It | “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (2022) Movie Review

The “Harry Potter”/”Fantastic Beasts” franchise has seemingly fell from grace due to not only its fans growing up and realizing that there is a vast world outside of Young Adult literature, but also because of the controversy surrounding series author J.K. Rowling, who also penned the screenplay for the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films, which is the prequel series to “Harry Potter.” It also didn’t help that its last installment, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” was critically panned and underperformed at the box office, with Rowling’s clunky dialogue and bad storytelling receiving the blunt of that film’s criticism.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” has come with a major course correction, as Steve Kloves — the screenwriter for all “Harry Potter” films except for “Order of the Phoenix” — returned to co-write this film’s screenplay with Rowling. As such, its writing and narrative structure has notably improved from the previous installment in the franchise, though the series as a whole still lacks direction. Like the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, “Fantastic Beasts” doesn’t feel like there’s an overall plan and it seems like Rowling and company are making it up as they go along.

“The Secrets of Dumbledore” starts with series protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) delivering twin baby Qilins — magical deerlike creatures that can see into people’s souls and futures, and are known to bow before those pure of heart. That becomes important, because they are used later in the film to influence an election of the International Confederation of Wizards, in which, after he somehow gets all charges dismissed for multiple counts of murder, series bad Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is allowed to be a candidate. Grindelwald wants war with the muggles, and the way he is taken seriously by the head of the ICW has eerie similarities to modern day events and reeks of both sidesism.

Current ICW head and German Minister of Magic Anton Vogel (Oliver Masucci) wants to hear Grindelwald out, foolishly thinking that defeating him in an election will cripple his power, and he doesn’t properly consider the fact that Grindelwald will probably try to cheat in the election. The whole thing is really suspicious — we will no doubt find out in FB 4 (if there is one) that he was probably a Grindelwald supporter all along.

Mads Mikkelsen is a big improvement over Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald.

Grindelwald does try to cheat the election, and he kidnaps and kills one of the Qilin twins in order to see the future through its blood. Hogwarts Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), whom Grindelwald used to have a romantic relationship with and shared a magical blood pact with that prevents them from battling each other, recruits an oddball group including Scamander, his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates), his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Ilvermorny Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) and pureblood wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) to undermine him through “counter foresight” measures that involve having overlapping plans and red herrings meant to confuse Grindelwald. Albus’ brother, Aberforth (Richard Coyle), also helps out.

Grindelwald has the support of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who we learned last film was a secret Dumbledore (Aberforth’s son) and is cursed with an Obscurus that makes him incredibly powerful, but will kill him; Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who loves Kowalski and wants to marry him and was manipulated by Grindelwald; and many random followers, particularly in the German Ministry of Magic.

Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) shows his blood oath, which prevents him from fighting Grindelwald.

The film’s central premise that focuses on outsmarting someone with foresight is an interesting one and is engaging. The film’s major problem is that it feels like it doesn’t ultimately go anywhere or further the overall story of the franchise. Rowling did mention that “Fantastic Beasts” would be a five-film series, and indeed, Harry Potter only gradually set up Voldemort’s rise through films 3-5, but I still feel like this film should have at least started the series’ endgame, if indeed there will be one beyond this film. With the series receiving diminishing returns, there is no official decision whether or not FB 4 will be greenlit, and there is much speculation that this will be it for the series.

“The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a very nice looking film, with it arguably being the most visually impressive film in the franchise to date, and it has some very good wizard fights with callbacks to Hogwarts and the early “Harry Potter” films. Law excels at being young Dumbledore, and he has great chemistry with Mikkelsen, who is a vast upgrade from Johnny Depp, who portrayed Grindelwald in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films. Depp’s version of the character was more unhinged, serving more as a prototype Voldemort by ruling through fear. Mikkelsen’s version of the character is more reserved and charismatic — it’s more convincing that his version would attract a wide following, despite his overall desire to have a war with the muggles.

Series protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) feels like a side character in this film.

Fogler continues to shine as Kowalski, as he serves as a stand-in for the audience in this expanded Wizarding World, and his comedic reactions to everything that happens is greatly appreciated. Everyone else has a relatively minor role — Scamander himself feels like a side character in his own film — and are mostly fine; they just don’t elevate the film.

A lot of loose ends are also tied up from the first two films, as if Rowling and company were well aware that this might be the last film in the franchise. But with Grindelwald still at large and in the grand scheme of things, still not having accomplished much, the series feels incomplete, like it still has one or two more grander tales to tell.

As a whole, while “The Secrets of Dumbledore” still has a lot of the same issues the other two FB films have in terms of direction, it’s a huge improvement from “The Crimes of Grindelwald”, and works fine as a standalone movie. It feels like this franchise got its magic back — perhaps Kloves’ return had something to do with that. But it might be too little, too late, as fans sour on Rowling and overall enthusiasm for this prequel series — which is still miles away from the quality and tone of the “Harry Potter” films — fades.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” gets a 7.5/10

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2 comments

  1. Having hated every HP film to date, this is easily the best one, and yet I guess it’s not what the series fans want. Seems like a case where the talent want to take the franchise in a different direction from the fans, but it’s a shame that the more adult and mature the franchise gets, themore people switch off…

    Like

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