A film review by Craig J. Koban June 12, 2022



2022, PG-13, 142 mins.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander  /  Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore  /  Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald  /  Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone / Aurelius Dumbledore  /  Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski  /  Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein  /  Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander  /  Jessica Williams as Eulalie 'Lally' Hicks  /  Katherine Waterston as Porpentina 'Tina' Goldstein

Directed by David Yates  /  Written by J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves



Every time I screen a new FANTASTIC BEASTS entry I'm forced to continually ask myself one basic question:

Why do these films push me away at such a frustrating distance when they desire to embrace me?

By my own admission (and I've reiterated this constantly in these reviews), I'm a hopeless muggle (a non-magic user to the virginal series fans out there) when it comes to J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER literary and cinematic universes (if anything in regards to the latter, I was harder on that franchise than most critics).  However, I was awfully fair to 2016's FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, which I thought was a fairly decent prequel film set years before and in a compellingly different overall setting than what we got with the HARRY POTTER saga.  Then came the rather disappointing and easily forgettable CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, which matched its antecedent on a level of pure visual dynamism, but was sluggishly and confusingly scripted.  That film also came off like one big expositional dump for what was then to come, which brings me to THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE, the third FANTASTIC BEASTS film (and the eleventh in the overall "Wizarding World" of HARRY POTTER), and it's regrettably one of the most throwaway and sleep inducing installments yet.  Funny, for a film filled with magic users, mystical creatures, and world destroying stakes, this one frankly bored me senseless.   

It's been an seriously long time since we had a FANTASTIC BEASTS films; the last one hit cinemas four years ago, and - to be totally honest - I needed to consult Wikipedia to recall what happen in the second prequel.  A lot has obviously changed in the movie world, such as a thorny pandemic that affected most studio's production and release plans, not to mention some nasty personal life issues from one of the main stars of FANTASTIC BEASTS that required some re-casting from the studio to avoid anymore nagging attention (more on that in a bit).  No question, the first two FANTASTIC BEASTS films were decent box office hits, which meant that a third entry was all but unavoidable.  Having said that, though, it now appears with THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE that - more than at any other time in the HARRY POTTER series - these films seem to exist primarily as money making ventures first and foremost; they feel feel padded and struggling to maintain some level of relevance to obsessive Potter aficionados.  That's not so say that they're aren't made with confident polish, mind you, but that they're seemingly spinning their narrative wheels a bit too leisurely and struggle to justify a reason to exist (outside of, again, to pad studio coffers).   

The focus is, somewhat to the film's credit, retooled to move away from Eddie Redmayne's annoyingly idiosyncratic and mumbling series hero New Scamander and now focuses on the core relationship between Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (franchise newcomer Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp, who has been battling some bad press due to his ensuing legal battles with his ex-wife), with the latter trying to assume his stature in the larger wizarding world by thwarting an election about to take place within it (some may make some easy correlations to the failed re-election of Donald Trump, but in the makers' defense this prequel was written far in advance of the U.S. presidential 2020 election).   Grindelwald's end game is fairly simple as far as madmen villains go: start a massive war with the heroes that he feels they have no ability to win whatsoever, and with human lives left in the balance.  The best scene in the film happens to be its introductory one, during which time we see the two powerful wizards share a table in what appears to be a posh restaurant, but their meeting is anything but cordial.  Dumbledore professes to have been blinded by love of the man, and their relationship was put on serious hold when Grindelwald relayed his final solution to deal with the world of non-magic using humans.  "With or without you, I'll burn their world down" he tells Dumbledore.  They still share tea together, but, yeah, the romance is all but killed when one chillingly announces his plans for mass genocide.   



Unfortunately, THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE never recovers from the greatness at that scene and seems to be all over the proverbial plot map from thereon in.  Because Dumbledore knows that a war is to come, he must re-enlist the services of his "magizoologist" in Newt and his sibling in Theseus (Callum Turner).  Joining them on their mission is Hogwarts professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) and everyone's favorite muggle in Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).  Joining them, in turn, are a French wizard named Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), Albus' brother in Aberforth (Richard Coyle) and Newt's assistant in Buddy Broadacre (Victoria Yeates).  Oh, I almost forget - checks notes - we also get the return of Jacob's love of his life in Queenie (Alicine Sodul), who's actually on Gridlewald's team now (awwwwwkward!) as well as Newt's romantic interest in Katherine Waterston's Tina, and if you're a fan of that character then you'll be mightily pissed off that she amounts to nothing more than an eleventh hour cameo here.  Can you even blame the makers at this point?  This film has so bloody many  characters all unsuccessfully vying for attention that it almost should have come with its own Newt penned guide to make sense of them all. 

There's so much more going on in THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (more is, as often the case with sequels, less).  Scripted by Rowling and Steve Kloves, you can really sense how terribly overstuffed this entry is as it laboriously shifts from one plot beat to the next, which leads to some damning pacing issues.  Some things are held back this go around, like Newt's stature and importance.  He's not thrown to the absolute sidelines like, say, Waterston's character, but Newt most definitely is more of a supporting persona now catering to the needs of the larger tale of Dumbledore and Grindelwald (and this is a good thing in my books, seeing as I've always found Redmayne's performance so exasperatingly quirky and mannered that I often had to wonder whether or not I wanted to spend more sequel time with this character).  He's involved in one of the livelier sequences in the film, which involves (a) him trying to jailbreak his brother out of a dark and creepy prison in a catacomb and (b) dancing in unison with hundreds of crab creatures (don't ask).  Moments like this are well oiled and consummately handled by HARRY POTTER veteran David Yates, who once again returns behind the camera (he has directed every FANTASTIC BEASTS film as well as the last several HARRY POTTER sequels, so if there's a filmmaker that feels in tune with this world then its clearly him).  Yet, you'd think that with this being his seventh Wizarding World branded outing that he'd be able to know that - for as fun as the sequence is - this prison subplot seems extraneous and never really compliments overall narrative thrust.  Unnecessary detours like this add so much running time to the already watch checking 142 minutes; Yates and Rowling should have been shrewd enough to wisely know what to leave on the cutting room floor. 

And, yes, giving Waterson's Tina virtually nothing to do this go around does this film no favors whatsoever, and one of the redeeming aspects of Newt's otherwise annoying character was his sugary sweet romantic bond that he had with this woman, which mournfully is forgotten about now.  Other characters that were given a place a supreme prominence do return again in semi-sizeable chunks, like Ezra Miller's Credence Barebone, one of Grindelwald's right hand men with deep personal ties to Dumbledore.  What sticks out like a sore thumb now is that Miller has recently engaged in toxic hooliganism that has gotten him into frequent trouble with the law; both he - alongside Depp - really serves as a unwanted distraction in this film (granted, Miller's deeply disturbing off-set behavior came well after this film wrapped, so there's that).  I guess what we are left with of chief interest is Dumbledore's doomed love affair with Grindelwald and the political complexities of how wizards in this world elect high leaders, but THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE comes off as way, way too safe and pedestrian to fully explore its characters' homosexuality (outside of longing glances and dialogue exchanges) nor is it really equal to the task of chronicling  the minutia of its political themes and how they mirror modern headlines.  We get much in the way of token gesturing in the scripting department here, but nothing nearly as contemplative as it yearns to be. 

I did like Dan Folger as his bumbling baker again for this third outing, and this time he's granted his own wizarding wand to play with while still mightily pining for the woman of his dreams that's now apparently in league with the enemy.  I also found THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE less aggressively dark as the last film (we get the murder of magical creatures in this to propel the story early on versus the killing of a baby in the last one).  One of these creatures in question is sought after by Grindelwald himself so he can steal its precognition abilities.  And despite Depp being a great actor in his own right that - uh huh - has become embroiled in marital and legal trouble outside of this film, I do find that Mikkelsen is a fine upgrade for Grindelwald and he really harnesses his soft spoken depravity rather well.  But, again, I'll end this review with the same basic question (and a few others) that I posed at the beginning of it: Why didn't THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE make me care about anyone or anything in it?  Why was it so coldly uninviting, especially as a lay Wizarding World viewer?  Where are the fantastical escapist thrills - and, yup - magic that typified the finest HARRY POTTER outings?  If you're a die hard fundamentalist of Rowlings' Wizarding World then I'll understand why this is required viewing for you.  For the rest of us everyday muggles, THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE is more of a cynical and uninspired cash grab that's somewhat joylessly trying to milk a previously dominant IP well past its expiration date.  

The phrase franchise fatigue is frequently uttered in film circles these days.  This series is the poster child.

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