'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore' review: There's little magic left in the tank
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
It’s remarkable “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the third entry in the now creatively defunct Harry Potter spin-off, even made it to the silver screen. Plagued with a litany of issues stemming from creative differences and diminished enthusiasm both commercially and critically, there’s also J.K. Rowling’s transphobia, Ezra Miller getting arrested for assault and the sudden re-casting of the series’ primary baddie Gellert Grindelwald now played by Mads Mikkelsen instead of Johnny Depp who coincidentally just started his deformation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard. Envisioned as a five-part franchise to help milk Warner Bros. massive stake in all things “Harry Potter,” “Fantastic Beasts” started off strong in 2016 before quickly fizzling with 2018’s convoluted follow-up. Now, four years removed, after undergoing re-shoots and several release date shifts because of the pandemic, anyone who finds themselves in the theaters seeing “The Secrets of Dumbledore” might struggle to remember why this series exists. Better yet, they might wonder where all the magic has gone. Was it ever there?
It’s true, a movie populated with fantastical elements, furry critters, wizards, witches, and wand dual’s has never felt so empty. Any momentum (or respect) “Fantastic Beasts” had nearly five years ago has been washed away and not even Jude Law, who gives one of the more somber and emotionally resonant performances in the Potter canon as Albus Dumbledore, can muster a flicker of goodwill. Directed by David Yates, who’s helemed a good chunk of “Harry Potter” flicks and both “Fantastic Beasts” installments, tries going back to basics, bringing along co-writer and fellow Potter head Steve Kloves to punch up J.K. Rowling’s expanded Wizarding World universe. Unfortunately, it’s a noble addition that comes too late in the game and “The Secrets of Dumbledore” doesn’t save face despite Kloves’ best efforts.
Taking place 70+ years before Harry Potter step foot at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” continues the exploits of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redymayne - looking mighty bored after three of these films), the world’s only Magizoologist who, in 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” seemed content with tracking down cute creatures like a game of “Pokemon Go” but is now at the forefront of a wizard revolution. It’s the early 1930s and Grindelwald (Mikkelsen) has begun stoking the flames for a war against the muggles (humans with no magic capabilities) and yes, the parallels between Grindelwald’s grass roots extermination campaign and Hitler could not be more obvious.
Back for more charms and spells is Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler - a continued bright spot), the down-on-his-luck baker sill fawning over his lost flame, Queenie (Alison Sudol); Dumbledore, of course, though aside from his name being in the title, there’s not many secrets unearthed that we didn’t already know; Newt’s brother (Callum Turner); and other characters you’ve either forgotten about or serve minimal purpose to the plot slowly filter in throughout the movie. Yates tee’s up the inciting action (Grindelwald’s bid to become the next minister of magic) as if it were The Avengers about to take on Thanos, but “The Secrets of Dumbledore” meanders its way through a muffled finish line, it’s tough to know who actually won the final battle. Remember when Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone-in this installment looking like he listens to “30 Seconds to Mars” on repeat-was positioned as this nefarious villain with a shocking back story? Well he does next to nothing in “The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Why he got more screen time as opposed to Katherine Waterston’s Tina who is noticeably absent here for reasons poorly explained will forever be a mystery!
Most of the movie consists of tiny vignettes with loose connective tissue and none of the fun or discovery present in the “Harry Potter” films. Some of it’s cute like Newt and his brother doing a silly crab walk to maneuver out of a cave filled with deadly creatures, and the somber prologue between Dumbledore and Grindelwald discussing their romantic past, and I’ll even give props for a soothing epilogue, but there’s not much confidence from a viewer standpoint that signals there’s enough gas in the tank for one, let alone two more installments.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE is now playing in theaters.