‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’- Movie Review: This Prequel Franchise Needs More and More Magic

We’re getting close to the summer movie season, but there has to be one blockbuster to make a lasting impression for April, and nobody probably thought it would be Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Though it’s part of the Wizarding World, you couldn’t pay me to get excited about the third entry. I love the Harry Potter films since I grew up with them like everyone else for the past 21 years. However, with the attention now on the series of Fantastic Beasts movies thus far, they haven’t reached the level of excitement and wonder I wanted. 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was flawed, but it was just a fine prequel upon reflection. Then came its 2018 sequel, The Crimes of Grindlewald, which I thought was overstuffed and meaningless to which I consider it the only movie in this entire franchise to call “bad.” Everyone is hoping for this to finally be the movie that’ll give hope to a now-trilogy some respect. In some cases, it improves in spots. But, is it enough to make it passable? Unfortunately, the payoff is more of a mixed bag.

Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world and declare war against the muddles. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches including: Newt’s older brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) and the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.

The first two barely made an impression on me where my mind doesn’t want to be in the mood to give them a re-watch to prepare for seeing this. Not only that, but I went into this without remembering what really happened since it was so long ago. How did the second wrap things up? It’s almost not a good sign when the title is too similar to the previous efforts (The *noun* of *a character’s name*). All I wanted out of this was not to leave the theater feeling like time was wasted, and it was like this, but not angrily. A part of me thought, “this is going okay,” towards the middle. Then once it wrapped up, I ended up being pretty “meh” on the whole experience. While there isn’t anything with the studio wanting to explore more of the fantastic world the always controversial J.K. Rowling brought to life in her series of classic books, its latest continuation is evident hardcore fans will care so little about this.

One of the bright spots of The Crimes of Grindlewald was the spot-on casting choice of Jude Law as the younger Dumbledore. And once again, he gets the opportunity to do the heavy lifting of these movies with an interesting performance with his portrayal.  The most significant change and challenge The Secrets of Dumbledore has to go through is having the talented Mads Mikkelsen replace Johnny Depp as the antagonist Grindlewald. Those who don’t remember, the move from the studio, Warner Bros. Pictures, fired him due to the negative publicity he was facing two years ago. Honestly, this decision didn’t bother me since Mikkelsen’s the better actor of the two. Though three actors have played the character now, finding a connection to him will undoubtedly struggle while sitting in the theater. Yet, this had me questioning why wasn’t he cast to begin with? Yes, his appearance is vastly different from the character than when he saw him, but I have to give it to Mikkelsen for providing a strong enough performance that makes him a servable villain. I did want more scenes of Law and Mikkelsen together, but the movie opens with one of its more memorable scenes: It’s the two of them meeting at a restaurant where the former tells him they made a blood pact to know how much he loves him in the past, unable to fight him.

Unlike everybody else, I don’t dislike the character of Newt Scamander as Redmayne continues to do a good job being the lead character we’re rooting for in the franchise, along with him carrying alongside his magical briefcase. But here’s the thing: You keep forgetting he’s the main character to be focusing our attention on, but we don’t see a lot of him to the point where he’s almost a supporting character. That’s sad to realize, and it’s unfair not to see him get more development than knowing his vast knowledge of creatures. My favorite character from all these movies is Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. Though he’s just a regular human finding his way back into this world, I’ve always loved how he has so much heart to him and also cares deeply for his true love Queenie (the lovely Alison Sudol), who turns to the dark side at the end of the last movie didn’t sit well with me. Some of the lighthearted humor came from him that got a few chuckles out of me.

The rest of the returning and fresh faces were doing their best, with Jessica Williams as Professor Hicks being not too bad since she was really charming. It’s just that they’re all fine and not exceptional with the movie they’re in. Ezra Miller (ooh, controversial) reprising his role as Credence Barebone does have a relation that I can’t remember was established in the last movie or not. However, he wasn’t an important enough character to care less about whenever he showed up on the screen. And if you’re like me, wondering where Katherine Waterson’s Tina Goldstein in all of this is? She’s resorted to a cameo with two scenes near the end, and they gave her an excuse why she can’t tag along on this adventure. The main female character is utterly wasted here.

I was very excited to learn that series veteran Steve Kloves (who wrote the screenplays for all the original Harry Potter films except Order of the Phoenix) came on to co-write the script with Rowling to boost up the writing and David Yate’s direction to being brighter than ever. Watching this makes me know it touched things up a bit as Klove’s involvement helped lend the magical moments we’ve known and loved. But I couldn’t tell you what was going on with the story for a large part of it. Everything surrounding these three movies has always lacked a severe case of fun that’ll those who grew up reading the books or watched the films feel a sense of joy. And Yates has been around this franchise for 15 years now. So you don’t get the whimsical breath of fresh air and stakes from these compared to him helming Order of the Phoenix to Deathly Hallows Part 2.  Even when this offers some “fantastic beasts” as expected, we get the cute magical creatures Niffler and Bowtruckles returning; the rest either get killed or are plain dangerous to be around. In addition, there isn’t a nice flow in the storytelling that makes it feel like you’re watching a movie set in the Harry Potter world. 

The magic is there, but not within the writing. Most of the scenes are just characters discussing what needs to happen and a bunch of random material to get us to the climax. The entire first act is all set up that wasn’t getting me too attached with how the rest of the time will go, suffering from the slow pacing that feels so sluggish, though not as apparent as the last movie. This goes into a political thriller with fantasy elements. Of course, there’s nothing better than a group of wizards trying to foil an inhuman wizard from having all the power in their world through manipulation. But, as exciting as that sounds, I had difficulty being compelled by what this tried to get behind. We actually have a few scenes that take us back to Hogwarts, with “Hedwig’s Theme” by John Williams giving me that warm welcome feeling back.

This doesn’t come close to being like its big brother in a continuing franchise. And though Secrets of Dumbledore didn’t leave me feeling angry, it’s more likely going to be one of the more forgettable sequels this year has to offer. This will likely have its fans think this enough to keep moving forward in the right direction, but it’s only alright from my perspective. I know that with three movies deep now, I can sense there are always better movies inside them all, and they haven’t come out to give us their brilliance and spectacle. I seriously doubt this will be the last one to wrap up this trilogy since we could still be getting two more if this does well critically and financially at the box office, respectively.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is definitely an improvement over the second installment, but it’s still a franchise nowhere near great, feeling more neutral than anything else. There are moments of genuine magic and Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen were great. The story, however, is unengaging and dour. It’s probably the second-best out of the three we’ve gotten so far, but despite not being entirely negative about this movie, does it matter? If there’s the possibility of us getting a fourth installment soon, the best idea is to have new faces to punch up this series finally.

Grade: [C+]

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is now playing in theaters and in IMAX. Runtime: 142 Minutes. Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

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