Almost as much time has passed between the last Fantastic Beasts film and the newest entry Secrets of Dumbledore that nearly mimics as much time between the last Potter film and this new franchise starting. To be fair there was a global pandemic that happened to halt the industry 2 years prior but still, with the franchise back, much of the same can be expected though a lot has certainly changed in the muggle world with offensive statements, an actor change, and a new set of headaches for another one of the stars of this talented cast. The wizarding world pushes forward as we expect it to while Secrets of Dumbledore provides a much-needed course correction of its predecessor but not enough to get back on track fully.
Transgressions in the muggle world aside, Secrets of Dumbledore is more tame, somber, and melancholy than the previous installment. Less and less about the care of magical creatures and the introverted enigma Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), and his American auror love interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is happens to be missing in action. Only having mere seconds of screen time, the decision to cripple one characters presence doesn’t add up to what has been established in this wizarding world spin-off. Even the aura around her when the character happens to be on screen looks completely out of place, and no one once questions the absence.
While the love story between muggle, I still can’t bring myself to say ‘no-maj’, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and the normally effervescent Queenie (who is also devoid of charm herself, that’s what the dark side does to a witch) (Alison Sudol) is alive and well. Go figure – the film series that starts with magical creatures and the author of a textbook is non-existent. Newt might as well be as absent from the narrative as Tina is. Only there for a typical creature moment where Newt looks utterly ridiculous but knows exactly what he’s doing, his entire purpose was fulfilled in the first 15 minutes.
Regardless, Newt is not the boy who lived – he’s constantly outshined by every other member of this mismatched group put together by Dumbledore. Redmayne is just happy to be there.
But give Jacob a wand, make him the narrative’s north star and introduce new witch Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), a brilliant charms professor at the Ilvermorney school to bring the mood up whenever she’s on screen with Theseus (Callum Turner).
With a title like Secrets of Dumbledore much of the so-called secret is already public knowledge rendering the title redundant. After verbal confirmation from author and screenwriter for these films J. K. Rowling years ago, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) finally admits on screen that he’s queer – said aloud to his friend and lover Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) as the two discus their difference of idea for shaping the magical world and by extension the muggle world, too. It’s the opening scene straight out of Michael Mann’s Heat with over the shoulder shots of the two-sharing tea. Ultimately, it’s a pensieve memory as the background fades to white smoke but effective nonetheless at establishing the two’s relationship.
Mikkelsen’s presence on screen will instantly vanquish all memory of the two actors that came before him – Colin Farrell (who should never have been sharing the role in the first place) and Johnny Depp (stepping down to focus on his legal allegations). The danish actor looks completely comfortable in the role taking over as the dark wizard looking to cleanse the muggles from the earth. Whats a little plot of genocide? After all, Mikkelsen is regarded as a better Hannibal Lecter than Hopkins himself. I firmly stand by that argument. When we last saw the character, however, he was spilling the tea to Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) that he is Aurelius Dumbledore, the illegitimate secret child of Aberforth Dumbledore (Richard Coyle) while also vowing to purify the world.
Somehow Aurelius knew this information and still was still convinced to kill Albus – his uncle. Rowling spares all Potter heads on a confusing fury of going back and re-reading the novels to look for another hint of a Dumbledore sibling. The Cliffhanger left off in Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t follow through with the anticipation factor in this sequel – Rowling makes it more of a footnote while the emphasis of this story is placed elsewhere.
Rowling and her writing partner Steve Kloves (who has written every Potter film) puts the focus on politics and the Supreme Mugwump race. Another sign that this franchise has no overall plan to it – we’re just supposed to trust the creator of the world because she knows it best. Waiting for anything significant to happen during this election period is a lot to ask for. The foundation of the first Fantastic Beasts film puts an adorable creature named a Qilin front and center for deciding the vote.
Coming in 10 minutes longer than Crimes of Grindelwald, this Fantastic Beasts takes time to getting to the final moment we’ve all been waiting for and first read about in the Deathly Hallows novel – the battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. And just like the rest of the film, it’s disappointing and anti-climactic – not what any Potter head would expect. Maybe the creatives are saving the breathtaking display of magic for the next two films (if they even happen), for this is a supposed 5 film arc. Any magic within the 142 minutes is barely a wisp of a Lumos charm.
Ironically enough, the marketing suggests a return to the magic.
While the performances of Law and Mikkelsen are magical that takeover the spotlight in an otherwise bland sequel, the question going forward will be, does this entry secure the next one or the one after that? Only the box office will tell. I didn’t think it was possible for the Harry Potter franchise to lose steam, but it is with every subsequent film in this franchise, the magic is losing its potency to dazzle. It has its moments but they’re rare.
Written By: J. K. Rowling & Steve Kloves
Directed By: David Yates
Music By: James Newton Howard
Cinematography: George Richmond
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, William Nadylum, Jessica Williams, Mads Mikkelsen
Release Date: April 15, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 23 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
My Score: 2.5 out of 5
Based On: The Wizarding World created by J. K. Rowling