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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) movie poster
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Theatrical Release: April 15, 2022 / Running Time: 143 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: David Yates / Writers: J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves

Cast: Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Jude Law (Albus Dumbledore), Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone/Aurelius Dumbledore), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Callum Turner (Theseus Scamander), Jessica Williams (Lally Hicks), Mads Mikkelsen (Gellert Grindelwald), Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein), William Nadylam (Yusuf Kama), Victoria Yeates (Bunty), Poppy Corby-Tuech (Vinda Rosier), Richard Coyle (Aberforth Dumbledore), Oliver Masucci (Anton Vogel), Maria Fernanda Candido (Vicencia Santos), Dave Wong (Liu Tao), Fiona Glascott (Minerva McGonagall)

 

A few years ago, Fantastic Beasts made sense. The unprecedented Harry Potter film franchise had finally come to an end after eleven years of evergreen returns. And if author J.K. Rowling was interested in continuing the saga with Warner Bros., what right had us muggles to object, simply because we loved what Rowling had created?

Three films and one pandemic in, Fantastic Beasts no longer makes sense, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that these prequel films, fantasies not based on bestselling books but original screenplays by Rowling and Steve Kloves, have never inspired the passion of the proper 8-film Potter canon. The first entry, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuted in the fall of 2016 to generally favorable reviews, a plenty respectable worldwide box office haul of $814 million, and somehow even the first Academy Award bestowed upon Wizarding World cinema. The 2018 sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, added some star power by casting of Johnny Depp in the subtitular role. But the ticket sales were down significantly and critics' reviews were much less forgiving.

In the three and a half years since that film, we've not only had to deal with the industry-changing global pandemic but also with various figures associated with the franchise being "cancelled." Rowling has been widely criticized for her views on transgender people. Nonetheless, she's still here as co-writer and producer. Also returning is actor Ezra Miller, whose incriminating 2020 Iceland choking video has given way to more troubling bar disruptions and an arrest in Hawaii late last month. Not welcomed back is Depp, whose fallout from his legal proceedings with ex-wife Amber Heard have more or less put him on Hollywood's "Do Not Call" list. The role of Grindelwald has been reassigned to Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, casting some would consider an upgrade.

Mads Mikkelsen takes over the role of Gellert Grindelwald from the embattled Johnny Depp in "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore."

Alas, it would take more than a recasting to get this franchise on the right track. Whereas the Potter movies and the books drew enthusiastic crowds of all ages from their complex mythos and long-developing character arcs, the Fantastic Beasts movies have more or less been content to hit some of the same beats, with Potters 5-8 director David Yates opting again and again for a stylized color palette and familiar rhythms. As the fatigue and aimlessness of this franchise grows more apparent, so too must viewer apathy. The novelty of seeing a young version of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) has largely vanished. This Dumbledore's hair and beard are dark and his homosexuality is no longer a matter of fan speculation.

This threequel's subtitle, The Secrets of Dumbledore, seemingly does not allude to his previously-theorized, unrequited love of Grindelwald. Perhaps it refers to the true origin of Miller's character, Credence Barebone, who you've probably forgotten the last film revealed in closing to be a Dumbledore.

Naturally, there are some family issues to be worked out. There is also a major election, which sees the shifty Grindelwald running for the office of Supreme Mugwump, a key step on his plan of world domination. Our flavorless, forgettable heroes -- magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) -- and the one individual with personality in their ranks, lovelorn muggle Queens baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) are tasked with stopping Grindelwald, a mission that requires a septet of matching briefcases and one highly sought-after future-seeing magical creature called a Qilin.

Brothers Themeus (Callum Turner) and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) encounter some fantastic beasts.

There are a few fun bits in Secrets, like a brief stop at Hogwarts and the sequence in which Toni Erdmann's Peter Simonischek shows up as a sleepy guard in a dank dungeon prison. But, for the most part, this is a franchise running on fumes and fumbling through the motions. Rowling, Kloves, and Yates all seem to have lost any idea as to how or even why to keep viewers invested. Three films in, it is clear that this series is simply a way for these personnel and Warner to milk the Harry Potter cash cow a little further. It's just like how the studio and Peter Jackson cashed in on Lord of the Rings goodwill to give us last decade's unmemorable Hobbit trilogy.

The visuals and production values of Secrets are fine, from infrequent effects to the reliably cute CG critters. But the storytelling is a mess and no amount of Jacob Kowalski jokes can save it.

The public's love of Harry Potter is not evaporating anytime soon, but even that is not enough to turn mediocre tentpoles into something cherished or even willfully endured. A fourth Fantastic Beasts movie has yet to be officially greenlit and maybe it won't be. The lack of something even resembling finality in this film reflects the bigger problem this franchise has always faced, which is that in direct contrast to the meticulously planned Potter saga, Rowling and company seem to just be making these movies up as they go with little regard for anything other than their already substantial bank accounts.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Northman The Extraordinary Weight of Massive Talent Sonic the Hedgehog 2 The Batman The Lost City
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Directed by David Yates: The Legend of Tarzan Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

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Reviewed April 15, 2022.



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