Like Ron Weasley’s wand in Chamber of Secrets, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is broken and devoid of any true magic, only showing glimpses of what it once was.
By Sean Blanford
I know what you’re thinking. You’re reading this right now because you are a massive fan of the Harry Potter franchise. You’ve been sorted into your house, read all the books, and watched every movie. Heck, you may have even dressed up like your favorite character for Halloween one year or even own a wand or three. You love the first eight films, and even though they weren’t perfect, you enjoyed the idea of the first two Fantastic Beasts prequel films. However, deep down inside, what you wanted more than a fresh pint of butterbeer or to be named captain of your local Quidditch team is the one thing we are yet to see in any of the previous ten Wizarding World films: a healthy dose of political malpractice.
Wait, that’s not what you’re looking for? Well, at least you have young Dumbledore!
We return to J.K. Rowling’s world of magic and mischief for the first time since 2018’s Crimes of Grindlewald, taking place just after the previous film’s events. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is hunting for a magical creature highly sought after by Gellert Grindlewald’s crew. This creature can see into the future and be a tool in Grindlewald’s quest to become the leader of the magical world. Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is back in Queens running his bakery, still longing to be with his love Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), even though she is still with Grindlewald. Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterston), one of the more interesting characters of the first two Fantastic Beasts films, is sadly reduced to window dressing in the form of photos in Newt’s suitcase as well as a bit part at the end of the movie to remind us the audience that she does exist. This leaves us to the main storyline of the film: the tragic saga of former loves Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindlewald (a re-cast Mads Mikkelsen), two men who can not battle each other, but their ideas of how the magical world can co-exist with the ordinary folks of the world vastly differ. Dumbledore enlists Scamader and Company to foil Gridlewald’s latest plan. At the same time, Grindlewald still has Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) in his back pocket, an angsty chap who was revealed to be of the Dumbledore bloodline in the previous film.
If what I described seems a bit of a mess, I honestly tried my best. The main problem with Secrets of Dumbledore individually and the Fantastic Beasts sequel films in their entirety thus far is that the entire story thus far is devoid of anyone that we, the audience, can root for or care about what happens to them. Jacob Kowalski was the closest thing to that in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but he becomes a less interesting character as his story goes on. We should be more invested in Dumbledore’s story. However, Grindlewald isn’t interesting enough as a foil for us to honestly care what happens because those who are familiar with their story know how it ends. Finally, Newt Scamander, our protagonist who has become less important with each passing film, still does his cute animal dances but isn’t a believable “hero.” There isn’t enough to sink our teeth into to make the overall story one we want or need to watch, let alone justify its 142-minute runtime.
The best parts of this franchise continue to be the visual aspects, with two fight sequences between Dumbledore and Grindlewald and Dumbledore and Credence being the highlights, even if what was happening was a tad confusing. The creature effects are also a delight, with Picklett the Bowtruckle Teddy the treasure-hunting Niffler as cute as ever. While the story overall is a letdown, the performances of Law and Mikkelson shine, serving us a reminder of how great of an actor Mads Mikkelsen is (like that was even a question), but longing with interest in what this series could have been if Colin Farrell played Grindlewald since the beginning, or Mikkelsen himself for that matter.
Overall, The Secrets of Dumbledore is another reminder of how hard it is to create a prequel series worthy of a beloved franchise. There are highs and lows, and when we inevitably get Fant4stic Beasts: The Rise of the Dawn of the War for the Planet of the Wizarding World, diehards will be there opening weekend, hoping it regains some of the magic of the initial series. Until then, this is a much watch for completionists only, which as of now is a bit of a stretch.
Grade: 2.75/5 (C+)
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is in theaters on April 15th. The film is rated PG-13 for fantasy action and violence.