Avada Kedavra Beasts Franchise!
Grindewald runs for public office, the Dumbledore family tree expands, and Magizoologist Newt Scamander dances with dungeon scorpions in the absolutely pointless, painfully-dull, franchise-killing Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Series mainstay Katherine Waterston had the good sense to sit this one out and I wish I had as well.
The third film in the not-so-popular Harry Potter spinoff, The Secrets of Dumbledore will be remembered most as a cautionary tale of reckless franchise bloat. Herein, the series pilfers the still-loyal contingent of Harry Potter fandom of its final spells of goodwill, resulting in an entirely painstaking, politically-driven installment with no sense of momentum, even less sense of urgency, and a plot that’s as bare as it is filled with plot holes. Make no mistake: the last film in the series, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was very bad. This is just as bad if not even worse.
The film begins sluggishly with a half-hour of reintroductions to the likes of Jude Law’s obnoxiously coy Albus Dumbledore, Eddie Redmayne’s quirk-rattled Newt, and Ezra Miller’s glowering emo-wizard Credence Barebone. None of them are more interesting than they’ve been before and remain unlovable additions to a series that was always short on charm. Dumbledore aligns with a ragtag team of good-guy wizards and witches to run a proxy war against Grindewald, unable to face the situation head on since he’s ensnared in a magical blood oath to not harm his once-lover and now-foe.
Though he cannot directly intervene, Dumbledore seeks to save both the non-magical muggles and the wizarding world from the growing threat of Grindewald, who runs a campaign of wizard supremacy ultimately set to either obliterate or enslave the muggle kind. Queenie (Alison Sudol) remains unexplainably aligned with Grindewald’s not-so-merry band of Wizard Nazis while her former-beau Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) continues to be the only thing in this series with a hint of charm.
Grindewald is played with quiet vigor by the always-impressive Mads Mikkelsen with no acknowledgement or explanation for the change-up from previous Grindewald actor Johnny Depp, who was ejected amidst public outcry of his very-public domestic problems with then-wife Amber Heard. It’s a strange and pointless pivot, doubly confusing since the character has now been played by Mikkelsen, Depp, and Colin Farrell, and one that, like everything else in the movie, just doesn’t work. It’s not Mikkelsen’s fault, there’s just no sense of continuity with this character and he’s just never very interesting.
[READ MORE: Our review of the equally awful ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald starring Johnny Depp]
The bulk of The Secrets of Dumbledore exposition centers around Grindewald’s (*checks notes*) political ambitions. He attempts to dispel his image as a genocidist criminal and rise to power the good old fashion way: by getting an omniscience deer to publicly bow to him, thereby proving he has a good heart. The nods to Nazism and Trump’s rise to power are obvious to the point of clumsy yet make up the vast majority of the film’s bulk. For a movie about all-knowing deer and a bumbling magizoologist, The Secrets of Dumbledore is unrelentingly gloomy, leaning into the political allegory to the point of vanishing everything else. The film is played with such self-serious misery that there’s barely a flicker of fun to be found. And this from a movie ostensibly for kids and teens.
Director David Yates hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to the window-dressing fanfare, creating a non-zero number of admittedly dazzling set pieces, but the underlying magic is gone entirely, lost in the service of a nothing plot and unlikable characters scurrying around for two feckless hours that fail to pass as entertainment. Controversy-plagued J.K. Rowlings returns to write the script but it’s more clear than a patronus that she’s been spinning plates for a full two movies at this point and is so far out to sea that there is no coming back. Mark my words: this will be the final installment in this dreadful series.
CONCLUSION: Boring, dreary, and populated by unlikable characters, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ is an absolute chore. There’s no way this will be a hit so at least this will be the last time we’ll have to endure these wearisome characters and their drab Wizarding World.
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