Directed by: David Yates
Premise: The third film in the Fantastic Beasts series. The dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) campaigns to be named leader of the wizarding world. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to foil Grindelwald’s plans.
What Works: The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement over 2018’s The Crimes of Grindelwald. The previous Fantastic Beasts movie was an incoherent mess. The Secrets of Dumbledore is comparatively streamlined, the action is discernable, and the visual effects are more polished. The new film also benefits from the casting of Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Mikkelsen is much more convincing as a charismatic authoritarian leader. He’s well paired with Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore. Their scenes crackle with the heartbreak and resentment of former friends and lovers who have split. The strongest presence of Fantastic Beasts continues to be Dan Fogler as the baker Jacob Kowalski. He has a warm and likable presence that contrasts with the dour self-seriousness of the rest of the picture.
What Doesn’t: Like its predecessor, the main problem of The Secrets of Dumbledore is the storytelling. The movie doesn’t make much sense, the characters are thin, and the story doesn’t provide enough context. The primary storyline is political with Grindelwald attempting to engineer an election; finalists for leader of the wizarding world are selected by a magical fawn and Grindelwald uses dark magic to fix the results. The conceit is stupid, even in the context of a magical fantasy, but it’s made worse by clumsy storytelling. Nothing of consequence happens in the first hour of the movie, scenes go on forever, and The Secrets of Dumbledore feels all of its 142-minute running time. The characters’ motives are vague and it’s unclear where anyone is going or why. We don’t know why these people want the fawn until the very end of the movie so there are no stakes associated with who possesses this fantastic beast. There are attempted assassinations and political corruption but the filmmakers never provide enough exposition to make sense of what’s happening. The subplots are especially weak. The story picks up the love story between Kowalski and Queenie (Alison Sudol). The second film ended with her joining Grindelwald’s movement but now she wants out for inexplicable reasons. Dumbledore is stalked by one of Grindelwald’s flunkies (Ezra Miller) which reveals a convoluted family backstory. Meanwhile, Newt Scamander, who was supposedly the protagonist of this series, has been shoved into a narrative corner. None of the characters grow or overcome meaningful challenges, resulting in a story that is flat and devoid of tension or interest.
Bottom Line: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is another disappointing entry in the Harry Potter spinoff series. It’s not the disaster that The Crimes of Grindelwald was but it is a boring slog.
Episode: #899 (May 1, 2022)