THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE
PG-13, 142 mins.
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' GoldsteinDirected 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
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
They still share tea together, but, yeah, the romance is all but
killed when one chillingly announces his plans for mass genocide.
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
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
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
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.