Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
It seems like a lifetime since millions were captivated by the adventures of a young wizard named Harry Potter and his friends (the original book was released a quarter of a century ago). Initially the books, then the movies, were all phenomenally successful. Once the final movie came out, Warner looked to take advantage of the series’ enduring popularity with a new epic prequel set in the same world, created exclusively for the big screen. The result was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its follow-up Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The first had weak story and characters, but a lot of good creatures. The second focused a lot more on world building, giving depth to everything, yet wasn’t as fun. Where to Find Them did pretty well commercially, while Grindelwald was the lowest grossing of the entire franchise.
It doesn’t seem that people are clamoring for a continuation of this mildly diverting series; still, there are supposed to be a total of five of them. Its future depends on how well the latest entry fares. That is Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, another okay-ish spectacle that, like its predecessors, feels very similar to the stories that launched this universe, unfortunately lacking their sense of magic.
Once again, magizoologist Newt Scamander teams up with Professor Albus Dumbledore and muggle Jacob Kowalski to try to stop evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald from taking over the world. There are some cool visuals, cute creatures, heavy themes of bigotry versus kindness and lots of magic battles. In short, there is nothing here audiences haven’t seen plenty of times before. That is the biggest issue with Fantastic Beasts: the filmmakers have no new ideas; it is just the old ones rearranged a bit.
Obviously, a viewer expects the creatures, special effects and magic. To be fair, some of that stuff is slightly different. What is most surprising is that it has the same themes as Harry Potter, without the freshness and urgency. The villain there wanted to wipe out anyone who wasn’t a pure wizard and claim the world for the powerful. Grindelwald isn’t quite that straightforward with his rhetoric, but he has the same basic motivations. Grindelwald spews hateful propaganda to his followers and tries to manipulate the public into seeing him as a hero so he can gain power. He is basically a calmer Voldemort.
Both sets of stories use their material to create parallels to what is happening today. However, the Beasts movies aren’t as interested in that. It adds fake depth, as opposed to the actual depth of Harry Potter. It is there for heavy-handed color.
Sadly, that is not made up for in the character department. Newt is a bland hero. A run-of-the-mill good guy with no real quirks or personality flaws. This version of Albus Dumbledore is mostly engaging because the audience already has an emotional connection to the future Albus Dumbledore. Grindelwald is a little harder to track. Mads Mikkelsen is the third actor to play him (following Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp). Mikkelsen is less outwardly evil and more deceptively sinister in the role. His forced friendliness is creepier. Partly because he keeps changing, the character is more symbolic of the obstacles our heroes have to overcome than he is a specific villain.
My favorite character remains Jacob Kowalski, a muggle baker who became Newt’s trusted confidante. Not only does he work as the audience’s entry point into this world, he also has personal stakes, which Newt does not. He has gone from goofy and bumbling to a legitimately brave hero, who is still sort of goofy. He is likable support, though it is a problem when his subplot is more compelling than the protagonist’s main plot.
Reviews of movies like these are kind of irrelevant. Most people knew whether they were even potentially interested in seeing Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore the second they learned of its existence. A negative review won’t turn them off and a positive review won’t bring anybody in. This review probably reads like I hated it. I really didn’t. It is just that something that so clearly feels like it was made solely so the studio could have additional content, irritates me. It is a relatively harmless use of 134 minutes (without the end credits). The creatures are cute, there is some cool magic and it will leave your brain almost the moment the screen fades to black.
3 out of 5
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore
Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald
Jessica Williams as Eulalie Hicks
Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander
Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Richard Coyle as Aberforth
Directed by David Yates
Screenplay by J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves