Director: David Yates
Writers: J. K. Rowling, Steven Kloves
Production: Heyday Films, Warner Bros.
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Platforms: Theatrical Release (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now!
The Fantastic Beasts series (a spin-off from the iconic Harry Potter films) badly needed a win with the new entry, The Secrets of Dumbledore. After a fun but throwaway first film and a mediocre, muddled sophomore entry, an improvement was needed – and I’m not just talking about replacing Johnny Depp with Mads Mikkelsen, as the whole story needed more character and less exposition. Whilst not a complete home run, this third film does a lot right, and at times I felt that heartwarming Harry Potter magic again.
After The Crimes of Grindelwald, we were left with the reveal that Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) was a Dumbledore. Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) has manipulated Credence into affiliating with him, and intends to have Credence kill Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Why doesn’t Grindelwald just do it himself? Well, we also know that, back when they were friends and lovers, Dumbledore and Grindelwald formed a blood pact that prevents one from acting against the other.
In response, Albus has recruited Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and various others to help him stop Grindelwald, who is also infiltrating the political world with his intention of pushing Muggles (non-magical beings) into inferiority. Mikkelsen plays Grindelwald with an understated charisma, which I quite liked – you can tell there’s anger beneath the surface, but you can imagine people rallying behind his confident appearance. We know Mikkelsen can turn it up when needed, so I hope we see this in future films.
Early on, this movie suffers from switching between plot threads without time to get your bearings; often I’d find myself wondering what was going on, before context was established afterwards. This noticeably improves around the halfway mark, as if the film suddenly realises the great assets it has in the cast. Redmayne and Law are standouts, with one scene in Hogsmeade especially delivering on relatable, raw emotion. The loveable, bumbling, and undeniably smart Newt is probably my favourite part of these films, more than any of the call-backs or references.
Of course, this series is called Fantastic Beasts – and keeps this element, with imaginative and varied creatures throughout. A prison escape scene is a fantastic example, with a crowd-pleasing moment for the gold-hunting Niffler; magical creatures are central to the main Grindelwald plot, too. Furthermore, the visual effects continue to be spectacular, with my only complaint being the lack of creativity in duels. Personally, I’d like to see less basic impact spells and more creativity, like that incredible duel between Albus and Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The Secrets of Dumbledore stills suffers from a lack of contextual coherence and a bit too much exposition. However, the latter half of the film in particular is a definite improvement for the spin-off series, starting to bring back that joyous Harry Potter feel again. The last ten or so minutes is a beautifully bittersweet example of that for me, and leaves me satisfied, whether the series now walks off into the sunset or not.