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Film Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ Isn’t the Phoenix Tear Needed For This Franchise to Survive

Warner Bros.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is back! With another film in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, once again Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is off on an adventure to protect the Wizarding World. The plot is purposefully constructed to be full of twists and reveals, so I won’t be explicitly spoiling any of those elements in this review. The more of the plot you know going into the film, the less enjoyable it is. However, a small set up is needed.

Following Grindelwald’s (Mads Mikkelsen) uprising in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, He has his eyes on a new goal: to become the Supreme Mugwump. Because of his blood pact that prevents Dumbledore from directly fighting Grindelwald, Albus (Jude Law) once again has recruited the help of Magical Zoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to protect the wizarding world. This time, with the help of his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), American Charms professor Lally (Jessica Williams), and Bunty (Victoria Yeates), Newt will have to travel the world to stop the election and ensure the safety of Wizards and creatures alike. Fantastic Beasts:The Secrets of Dumbledore is a rollercoaster of events, though sizable portions of the plot are explained obliquely. This leads to a few reveals in the third act that only somewhat pay off. This contrived nature reveals the major ghosts haunting The Secrets of Dumbledore. It is a mess; a series of wrong decisions that start at the writing level and ascend to the direction and artisanship of the film. From a technical side, most of this film works. The visual effects are good; only one or two CGI elements stood out in the entire film. The few wizarding duels have brought back director David Yates’s impeccable ability to display complex back and forth battles of wits. The spells are sadly lacking the zip and pow associated with the franchise, largely due to Glenn Freemantle’s flat sound design. The spells don’t have the pop and speed they did in Half-Blood Prince or Deathly Hallows, but that’s only a minor problem in the grand scheme of things. 

Visually, Yates has once again pushed himself as a director, though it would seem he’s hit his limit. Director of Photographer George Richmond captures the wizarding world wondrously, with stunning establishing shots that make the world feel spectacular and large. But when it comes to simple discussions, Yates once again reuses some of the flawed perspective shots found in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s not quite as nauseating here, but it still feels out of place. There is also a plethora of mid-close-ups and extreme-close-ups that pan a little too aggressively, which can make scenes occasionally hard to follow. And yet, I was still floored by some of the shots, and the dynamic lighting and locations on display. Fantastic Beasts 3 features the most subjective filmmaking techniques in the franchise, and it’s a breath of fresh air. 

Speaking of fresh, Mads Mikkelsen brings a sombre approach to Gillert Grindelwald, whose conniving and hateful persona has once again been wisely cloaked for much of the film. It keeps Grindelwald a truly captivating villain, even if he doesn’t have enough screen time. Jude Law is working overtime as Albus Dumbledore, bringing in the compassionate soul needed to make the character work. The tragic love between these two may be a subplot in the writing, but their performances and Richmond’s camera elevate its presence in the film. Eddie Redmayne once again delivers a captivating performance as the socially inept magical zoologist, and when he is able to shine, it’s a blessing. There is a sequence of dancing scorpions that will live in my mind for the rest of my life, it’s just that good. Dan Fogler is still a comedic genius, but the material he is given doesn’t allow Jacob Kowalski to thrive as a character this time around. And considering that he was the best part of the two films that preceded this, it’s a major downgrade. Katherine Waterston is once again fantastic as Tina Goldstein, but her role as a minor cameo more serves to tie up loose threads than to progress this story specifically. 

The rest of the returning cast, comprised of Callum Turner (Theseus Scamander), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Willaim Nadylam (Yusuf Kama), and Ezra Miller (Credance Barebone) all give stilted supporting performances that feel hollow and more akin to IKEA furniture than a character. Line delivery is wooden, with physical performances longing for personality and flair.

Some of the newcomers are given a lot to do and make good use of the screen time: Jessica Williams (Eulalie ‘Lally’ Hicks) is particularly memorable. Her quick wit and unique spells make her a stand out for the film. Victoria Yeates gives a solid performance as Newt’s assistant, Bunty Broadacre, and matches his quirky demeanor perfectly, in spite of the small amount of screen time given to her. 

But all of this is skirting around the story, which defines this film for better and worse. The large cast feels largely under-utilized thanks to the unbalanced script. Much of this film is full of pointless busywork that other filmmakers would establish prior to their film, or cover in 15 minutes, not in 2 hours. And much like its predecessors, those two hours are tonally imbalanced. It’s a hodge-podge of genres that don’t fit well together (comedy, spy thriller, kids monster movie, and romantic drama). And the sum of all these parts is a script that feels all over the place and unfocused. 

There are significant events that occur in the film, but they often all occur after having little to no build-up. Most characters suffer from being under-developed in the supporting roles, and it leads to stale characters that don’t grow in meaningful ways. For as important as Credance was in the previous films, here he is given a handful of scenes to explore the revelation that he is a Dumbledore. And the other Dumbledore, Aberforth, appears in the film, though he too only has a handful of scenes. Queenie’s life as a supporter of Grindelwald is left largely to the imagination, and Yusuf’s grief over Leta Lastrange’s death is touched on very briefly. All of this character examination is pushed aside for a plot that is often hard to understand, due to the mystery box format of this film. Events occur and are framed in such a way as to create questions within the audience, and while curiosity is a powerful drug, it only works so long as the audience doesn’t have the solution. As such, once you know core elements of the plot, the film falls apart, as its structure doesn’t have the complexity to stay interesting. There just aren’t enough magical beasts here to warrant a return journey to discover the Secrets of Grindelwald. 

All of this is to say, the choices made within the screenplay, and with the adapting team to cut and refocus the film, are poor. David Yates is a fascinating director, but without the emotional core, none of his visual flair lands. The Secrets of Dumbledore may be better than its predecessor, but it’s mediocre script tears down all the complexity within. 

SCORE: ★★

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Written by benjaminwiebe

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