Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore Review

To quote a famous film franchise, ‘you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’

Words that could apply to JK Rowling and her Fantastic Beasts franchise, with both having slipped from grace recently.

It’s been more than 10 years since the final Harry Potter film, but the wizarding world has persevered through the adventures of Newt Scamander and co – and Rowling’s latest chapter of this proposed quintology, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, is out this week.

And if the main criticism of the last Fantastic Beasts film was that it felt like an interim entry treading water, imagine what the actual middle section is going to feel like?

I don’t remember too much about The Crimes of Grindelwald, but I recall the finale promising all out war between pro-muggle and anti-muggle wizards.

This promise seems to have been considerably walked back, with Secrets of Dumbledore picks up with Grindelwald and his cohorts, including Credence Barebone and latest recruit Queenie Goldstein, in exile.

Grindelwald, who has previously masqueraded as Colin Farrell before morphing into Johnny Depp, is now embodied by Mads Mikkelsen who plays this role with typically understated malevolence.

While Grindelwald is busy stirring up dissent and creating ruptures in the wizarding world, Albus Dumbledore stands against him on the other side of the magical divide along with the Scamander brothers Newt and Theseus, Yusuf Kama and muggle born Jacob Kowalski.

Completing this wizarding X-men set-up is new character Professor Lally Hicks, with this rag tag collection of misfit wizards and muggles all that stand between Grindelwald rallying magical support for his war with non-wizarding folk.

How do they set about achieving this? As Grindelwald can see into the future, they decide that the best way to beat him is to be as unpredictable as possible – and the plot duly obliges, as our characters embark upon a journey that often makes little sense.

I mean, I got to the end of the film and I’m still not sure what the Secrets of Dumbledore are.

If a coherent plot appears to be hidden under an invisibility cloak, the artistic vision and creative talent can not be faulted. Set designs, costumes, music, cinematography, and more are all as high end as we’ve come to expect form this wizarding world. 

The same goes for the cast too; Jude Law continues to carve out a memorable Dumbledore amidst all the exposition, Eddie Redmayne is still a joy as Newt, Jessica Williams makes an impression as Lally and Dan Fogler’s Kowalski provides the heart of this story. 

It’s a shame that these individual elements weren’t served better by a sleeker and well crafted storyline.

Is Secrets of Dumbledore a sombre prequel about the mysterious past of Hogwarts favourite Headmaster, or a lighthearted follow up to the previous Fantastic Beasts films?

The film doesn’t seem to know, falling between both stalls – though it’s telling that the marketing material has Law literally overshadowing Redmayne, despite Newt Scamander’s initial prominence in the series,

Minor characters are picked up and put down whenever the plot requires, Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein character is dispensed with for reasons that remain unknown by the end, save for a fleeting cameo in a bolted on epilogue that may signal the end for this Fantastic Beasts franchise.

Overstuffed in terms of both plot and character, Secrets of Dumbledore may please die-hard fans of the wizarding world – but it’s not the return to form most of us had hoped for.

Conor Brennan

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