What more is there to say about the Fantastic Beasts trilogy that hasn’t already been said? I don’t know. I’ll do my best.
Back when it started in 2016, Aly was fairly ho-hum about the first movie but optimistic about the future of the series. I wasn’t a fan. I also wasn’t much a fan of The Crimes of Grindelwald but it’s not like anyone else was either. That one is a hard movie to love because it sucks. When the initial COVID-19 lockdowns started, I found myself with a lot of viewing time and dove into the entirety of the franchise and came to realize I actually hate most of the rest of these movies, too. I guess this makes me the wrong person to review the newest entry, The Secrets of Dumbledore, which sucks slightly less than Grindelwald solely because Johnny Depp got fired before production started.
I’m not walking in with any love lost for director David Yates, who has been phoning it in longer than I’ve been an adult. I’m certainly not expecting good work from J.K. Rowling, whose contemporary writing career was dead before she decided to salt the earth of her work’s reputation by being a bigot. The two of them are like a creative tag team of uninspired work and impoverished inspiration. After the first two movies, simple coherence and stakes would make Dumbledore stand tall in this sub-franchise. Unfortunately, it has neither, but at least the totality of its ineptitude is marginally entertaining.
The story starts in 1932. Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen) is rabble-rousing up a small army of devoted wizards and witches who hope to subjugate the Muggle population. Dumbledore (Jude Law) cannot openly move against him because the two share a magic blood oath forged during their brief romance decades prior. At the time, Dumbledore was a gifted wizard who shared his lover’s vision of wizard supremacy, until a fateful night when he realized the error of his ways. That story is told in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, although J.K. Rowling was too much of a coward to make Dumbledore’s homosexuality canonical to the book when it was released in 2007. She was also too much of a coward to make it explicit in The Crimes of Grindelwald 10 years later. It’s actually explicit here in a few scenes but done so in a way where it could easily be trimmed down for countries where homosexuality is still prohibited. Pretty lame, considering Law makes for a great Dumbledore and Mikkelsen is the third (and by far best) version of Grindelwald. A film about the two of them struggling to balance their philosophical disagreements and deep mutual attraction would be interesting.
Dumbledore isn’t that film, though, because the Fantastic Beasts series is wed to the insufferable cast of characters created for the first film. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is ostensibly the protagonist of this picture, although he does nothing of note in the entire story besides smile meekly and occasionally spout exposition. Because Dumbledore can’t directly attack Grindelwald, he recruits Scamander and a small crew of allies to go on meaningless missions in hopes of stopping Grindelwald from using a zombified magic Bambi to name him President of the International Confederation of Wizards.
Yeah, that’s the grant plan for Wizard Hitler. It sounds funnier than it is. No, actually, it’s exactly as funny as it sounds.
Newt is joined by returning pal Jacob (Dan Fogler), a Muggle who is pure of heart, as well as his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), and Professor Hicks (Jessica Williams), an American charms teacher. None of them are especially interesting characters. Kama’s role in the story is sort of inexplicable but no more so than the accent Williams puts on for Hicks, which feels exaggerated in a way the other actors don’t mirror. It’s all kind of a mess.
None of these wizards and witches manage to do anything of note as the story progresses, although they eat up most of the screen time away from the title character, who is by far more interesting and exciting. Dumbledore is also kind of worthless, but at least he’s enigmatic, charming and mysterious.
The film is saddled with resolving the fandom-killing reveal from the end of Grindelwald, which is that Credence (Ezra Miller) is actually a heretofore unknown Dumbledore brother. That’s lightly retconned here in a way that doesn’t really justify his return after certain death in the first movie but does away with a twist nobody liked.
Still, let’s return to the central plot of this movie: Grindelwald convinces the 1932 German Wizarding Government (who are dressed and behave like stereotypical Nazis but are not) to absolve him of his crimes, which doesn’t make much sense because in the prior film he was murdering babies in France, not Germany. After he gains his freedom, he decides to run for President, and his ace in the hole is a Qilin, which is basically a deer that can read someone’s soul. His grant plan is to show up at the big election with a zombified Qilin and trick all of wizarddom into voting for him because a deer endorsed him. So, Dumbledore and company must take another Qilin to the election to show Grindelwald is, in fact, not pure of heart, so nobody will vote him into the presidency.
Steve Kloves (who co-wrote several of the original films) is co-credited as a screenwriter here alongside Rowling, who wrote the first two Fantastic Beasts films herself. Given the state of the shooting script, it’s fascinating to imagine just how bad Rowling’s initial ideas were that they parachuted in a co-writer to develop it into this final product.
Dumbledore credits the screenplay to Rowling and Steve Kloves (who co-wrote several of the original films), based on a screenplay and characters by Rowling. Given the state of the shooting script, it’s fascinating to imagine just how bad Rowling’s first draft was that they parachuted in a co-writer to develop it into this final product.
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this is a good movie or a worthwhile trip to the theater. It is, at best, more tolerable than the last one but somehow less tolerable than the other movies in the series, which are mostly awful anyway. In a better world, fandom would be going wild over a tragic romance between the good-hearted but darkly tempted Dumbledore and his beau, the extreme and sinister Grindelwald, who isn’t happy being evil without his true love by his side. But hey, in a better world, Rowling wouldn’t have become a total piece of shit. So just get your fix of Mikkelsen being the devious devil on an angel’s shoulder with Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, which is readily available and deserves a fourth season that would cost a fraction of the budget for this lousy movie.