‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ Review

The magic, unfortunately, has yet to return to this franchise. Ever since Voldemort was defeated in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” back in 2011, David Yates has not returned to the director’s chair for “Fantastic Beasts” with a similar creative mind. These movies lack the amount of cast charisma and overall world-building qualities that “Harry Potter” perfected. With the third entry in this spinoff franchise, we hop to yet another convoluted, and simply confused plot: who will be the next person to run the wizarding world, and how Grindelwald must be prevented from such power. Even when Newt lays out a plan to the fellow protagonists about taking him down, the plan is that there is no plan and everyone must split up and try to confuse Grindelwald. 

Just because someone is a good novel writer doesn’t mean they’re a good screenwriter, *ahem*, J.K. Rowling. I’m not even sure where to begin. She’s written two of these movies solo now, one of them boring, the other a complete dumpster fire mess. It doesn’t seem even she understands what makes her own books so special to the fans. We came here to see cool magic stuff, not wizard elections and more politics. As one of the three people involved in this franchise who’s in some deep controversy with the internet, it’s fascinating that Rowling cut down the lead female character, Tina Goldstein, to nothing but a single scene cameo in this movie just because Waterston denounced Rowling’s transphobic comments. Glimmers of change are shown when producer Steve Kloves decided to step in and give her a hand on this one. 

Throwing no shade towards Johnny Depp, and I’m not going to even touch on the controversy because we’ll be here all day, but he was near perfection as Grindelwald in the preceding film and was the glue that held those twenty-or-so subplots together. Mads Mikkelsen is much more intimidating as this man who wants to burn down the muggle world and fits the nature of this politically driven film better. The one downside is he’s not as elegant with the wand as Depp was. I would like to see some good action in these movies because they’ve been dreadfully boring up to now. Had I left the theater feeling closure needs to be had in certain areas, I would say room for improvement in his portrayal could be made, but there’s nothing that made me believe two more movies are at all warranted. The only event that hasn’t happened yet that would bridge the continuity over to the “Harry Potter” films best (but could’ve been reworked into this film around the half-hour of rescuing Theseus that doesn’t matter) is Grindelwald hasn’t yet been captured and put in Azkaban.

If I were to say something I do care about in these movies, it’s the relationship set between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. It’s a tragic romance to behold, but I wish this was the expanded franchise we got, not the wizarding world of magical creatures featuring a socially awkward zoologist. Albus Dumbledore is so close to being considered the lead character of this film because of how much time is spent on the primary storyline of taking down Grindelwald. Instead of just saying there was a past between the two over a cup of tea, I would like to be invested in it (we’re so close I can feel it). This is the weakest possible form of exposition delivery. At least the end of the movie gives us some closure that no punches will be pulled going forward because of their blood pact being broken. Although, I never thought there was a way to make these gorgeous wand duels look so ugly and dull. One thing I thought was a nice touch was how we opened with a scene of Dumbledore and Grindelwald together, and at the end, Dumbledore finds himself alone.

The only reason I find the first “Fantastic Beasts” film as rewatchable is Jacob and Queenie, and the only other question I wanted to be answered during this film is “what is going to happen between Jacob and Queenie?” Because in “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Queenie ended up joining Grindelwald. I got my answer, but it was at the fault of the final act of the movie, and now there’s not much I have to be excited about because this story basically ended – no door is left open. In my mind, I see “The Secrets of Dumbledore” as being one of two movies, but they still didn’t take the correct approach with what we got. One is a happier ending of Grindelwald ending up in Azkaban (which didn’t happen) and Jacob and Queenie being married (which did happen). The other, this is not the final film, but either Queenie dies and Jacob becomes an actual wizard in the next film out for revenge; or Grindelwald doesn’t let up on the Cruciatus Curse, Jacob dies and Queenie left with nothing, returns to the side fighting against Grindelwald’s army. I plead my case.

I never found Newt Scamander a particularly interesting lead character, but they’ve finally made the right decision by pushing his story to an extended “B” storyline instead of the focus of the film. That said, I never saw what was so great about mesmerizing over oddly designed CGI animals (and I still don’t), but they put the creatures to use in this film better than any of the preceding films by actually incorporating them into the plot. Using the Qilin, a creature who bows at the one who is pure of heart, as a device to define the morality between good and evil of each Dumbledore and Grindelwald was fantastic (no pun intended). Though after this, I feel Newt, Tina, Jacob, and Queenie’s story is over. We should just draw attention to the Dumbledore and Grindelwald story, but of course, that’s not how it’s going to go.

I never felt it as dire or wildly over the place as was in the last movie, but there are still way too many characters in this movie that didn’t need the amount of time devoted to them. Credence has been the centerpiece character of the previous two films and his arc has been a complete mess through and through, yet he gets little attention here (and I have to imagine that’s because of Miller’s own controversies). It’s revealed he’s Aberforth Dumbledore’s son over a discussion at a table like it was something we were supposed to have figured out already and the movie just forgets about him until Grindelwald nearly kills him at the end. He also gets one of the two fight sequences in the entire movie and it’s impossible to follow what’s happening during it. Other than that, I surprisingly liked the new addition of Professor Lally Hicks tagging along, even though she had no place being in here. Same with Newt’s brother Theseus whose rescue takes an absurd amount of time from the movie, and Yusuf Kama who didn’t need to be in the last movie and didn’t need to be in this one.

“The Secrets of Dumbledore” could’ve been the final chapter of “Fantastic Beasts,” but we still have two more coming and I don’t think many people are itching for more; I know I’m not. I went in with low expectations and came out liking it more than the other two, which doesn’t speak much. Someone meaningful (Newt, Tina, Jacob, Queenie) desperately needs to die in the next film because I feel like we’re going nowhere. I’ve said this plenty, but if we need the build-up from two more movies to an epic duel or kiss (or both) between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, it better be darn worth it. So far, this franchise has been the definition of “meh,” and with the lore they have of this world, it should be far superior to that.

Final Grade: C+

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