Synopsis – Albus Dumbledore assigns Newt and his allies with a mission related to the rising power of Grindelwald.
My Take – There is no denying that the Harry Potter series, which ended publication in 2007, and concluded its cinematic adaptions in 2011, holds a dear nostalgic value to anyone who grew up in the 2000s (like myself). After all British author J.K. Rowling‘s Wizarding World was a constant adventure we all wanted to escape to.
However, despite being set in the same world as the cultural phenomenon and box office behemoth, and having returning director David Yates at the helm of the series, the Fantastic Beasts spinoff series which takes viewers on a trot around the globe in the early 1930s, continues to be a case of diminishing returns both critically and commercially.
While I personally found the first entry (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) to be a fun addition to the franchise, and didn’t hate the widely despised exposition filled second installment (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), it’s rather disappointing to see how this latest chapter, which brings back series mainstay writer Steve Kloves into the mix to co-write with Rowling, simply puts the final nail in the coffin by delivering a tepid follow up.
Falling into many of the same pitfalls as its successors by bringing in just too many characters and subplots. Sure, it’s not all bad experience wise, but here both Kloves and Rowling make very conventional writing choices that prevent the film from reaching its full potential. The weak characters struggle to support the similarly flaccid narrative, with nothing much to offer besides the occasionally enjoyable scene and grin inducing ending.
But throughout it all, you can sense the desperation to recapture the magic of the much better films the series originated from. It’s rather more disappointing to the fact that what once seemed to be a promising start to a familiar yet different side of the Wizarding World through the misadventures of Newt Scamander’s magical zoologist and his magical creatures, has unfortunately involved into unremarkable story that is of Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s connection (and love).
With the film failing box office wise, and controversy attached in the name of J.K. Rowling, Johnny Depp and Ezra Miller, the franchise seems to have undoubtedly burned out long before completing its planned five-film arc.
Beginning in 1932, the story once again follows magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who while assisting the birth of a deer-like creature called Qilin, that is endowed with a magical sense of righteousness and prophetic powers, finds himself attacked by Credence (Ezra Miller) and the acolytes of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), who end up killing the mother and abduct the child.
All in order to allow their leader to use the creature to see visions of the future, and plot to take over the President of the International Confederation of Wizards position in the upcoming Magical World election. A position through which he can declare war on the non-magic members of the world.
However, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) remains determined to stop him, and since he can’t move against Grindelwald directly, due to their magical pact, he sets up a team which consists of Newt, his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates), his Ministry-connected brother Theseus (Callum Turner), American Charms Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), French wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), and Newt’s Muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is still poignantly in love with the mind reader Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who has gone over to the Grindelian dark side. With a simple goal to stop Grindelwald at all costs.
With a set up that feels oddly similar to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), this third installment tries to be too many things at the same time. A political drama about the rise of fascism in the Wizarding World, a hijinks-filled look at magical creatures, a tie-in to the Harry Potter films, and a love story. All toppling upon each other, never managing to hook one’s interest completely as seemingly intended.
Although the film is never not engaging, it has no sense of magic or wonder in the least, as the story itself has no sense of stakes or resonance, to effect. Despite bringing back Steve Kloves, the writer of all Harry Potter films (except Order of the Phoenix) into the fold, the film just fails to ignite.
With the focus more or less shifted from the original series lead, Newt, and his compassion and knowledge of magical creatures, the film struggles to make us root for him, making him just a more of helper to his former teacher Albus Dumbledore but without any other compelling quality.
Even Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship is so-so, something which is never fully explored, or why the two have such contracting views. The original films were filled with interesting characters, while this one just contains too many and has no idea what to do with any of them.
The ending of this one’s predecessor revealed that Credence was Aurelius Dumbledore, a brother of Albus and Aberforth (Richard Coyle). Unfortunately, this film retcons on that creative choice, retaining his status as a Dumbledore but mixing up the family tree more confusingly. Plus among previously introduced characters, Nagini has vanished from the series without a single reference to her whereabouts and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) is reduced to a cameo with a throwaway explanation.
Among its infractions, the films gravest was its failure to focus the story on the actual beasts. Aside from the Qilin and the occasional glimpses of phoenix, the film doesn’t have much to do with beasts, fantastic or otherwise. Surprisingly, the film manages to end on an upbeat note. It’s so nice, in fact, that that they could scrap the rest of the series and end things here.
Performances wise, Eddie Redmayne stammers, shuffles and sternly waves his wand with the requisite amount of commitment. Dan Fogler continues to steal nearly every scene he’s in, and Jessica Williams, manages to be instant standout. Jude Law continues to bring well the vulnerability and authority of Dumbledore as seen in the Harry Potter films.
Ezra Miller has barely any dialogue, Alison Sudol and Richard Coyle are wasted, while Katherine Waterson has nothing do. Mads Mikkelsen who replaced Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald is not exactly an upgrade. Though Mikkelsen brings a more subtle performance, it isn’t able to erase Depp’s more insidious turn. On the whole, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ is a disappointing addition to serviceable spin off series which seems lost in its own makings.
Directed – David Yates
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 142 minutes