Fans of the Fantastic Beasts and, by extension, Harry Potter franchises have been on an emotional roller coaster ride these past few years. Well, less like a roller coaster, and more like that bus in Speed, ‘cause roller coasters have their highs–and there has been nothing much of a high point in recent Wizarding World history.
Between J. K. Rowling’s bigotry, the increasingly confounding Johnny Depp controversy, and whatever-the-hell Ezra Miller is up to, the Fantastic Beasts series has had a unique series of hurdles which has seemingly resulted in an equally confused third (and maybe final?) instalment.
Much like how Rowling cannot make up her mind on the rules of her magical universe, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore just can’t seem to figure out what the point of the movie is. I mean, at least George Lucas had the decency to accompany the (not so) trivial changes to his saga with re-releases of the entire available series each time… This third part in the Harry Potter prequel series just comes off as an incredibly confused mess. And the worst part? It kinda makes the last two movies pretty aimless, or outright pointless, too.
While The Crimes of Grindelwald was a divisive entry, with a little too much going on, the film was nevertheless a bold charge into an otherwise too familiar universe. With the revelation of Gellert Grindelwald’s involvement in the Fantastic Beasts series–be it trilogy or greater–the first film had opened the door to a different era and tone within the once child-friendly universe. And The Crimes of Grindelwald successfully built on that, with much of its gripping notes reliant on the track it promised to explore.
Alas, none of that manifests in The Secrets of Dumbledore. For one, I’m still not sure what the titular secrets are. Sure, there’s a revelation or two in relation to the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts. One is an embellishment of the actual secret in the last movie, and the other is just a mere technicality in the complicated relationship between Albus and Grindelwald. So… yeah, not entirely sure if either “secret” is worthy of being the key element of entitling the movie. In some ways, it just kinda felt like the Desolation of Smaug.
Unfortunately, the issues plaguing the film doesn’t end there. While The Secrets of Dumbledore is a neater film, not as burdened by meandering plot devices and entirely new characters as The Crimes of Grindelwald was, it does spend multiple stretches on entirely pointless sequences which feel almost afterthought-like, or simply inconsequential. And, unfortunately, the bulk of the third act is one of those afterthought-like scenes.
While The Crimes of Grindelwald also suffered from somewhat of a disconnect from the Fantastic Beasts element, The Secrets of Dumbledore employs some very unfortunate methods of reminding the audience that these animals in questions (and a magizoologist in the middle of this all) is somehow still relevant. This, unfortunately, comes on the tail end of a continually relineating plot device which has the truly magical power of reacting in the exact manner the plot needs it to in order to convey any contrivance in the most convenient way possible.
And all of this is compounded by Mads Mikkelsen’s strong performance but essentially different depiction of Grindelwald, as well as the mysteriously absent leading lady in Katherine Waterstons’ Tina Goldstein. While the change of a cast member is no big issue (we did survive the switch from Richard Harris to Michael Gambon, albeit due to very different circumstances), the suddenly missing key character only serves to shine a spotlight on all other oddities strewn across the movie.
While Mikkelsen’s turn on Grindelwald isn’t bad, the sudden change in character and persona makes the entire performance lacklustre. Where Depp’s very… Depp-y take on the character was convincingly believable to be the love of Dumbledore’s life, Mikkelsen’s turn is too normal. It’s hard to imagine that the eccentricity of Dumbledore could be paired with the generic intensity of this Grindelwald. Perhaps had Mikkelsen drawn more on his rendition of Kaecilius in 2016’s Doctor Strange, the character may have had more of a distinctive edge to him.
In all, it’s a bit of a bummer given that the first two Fantastic Beasts entries have been largely superior to most of the Harry Potter movies. Furthermore, The Secrets of Dumbledore may be the premature end to the series if the neater-than-expected conclusion is to be believed. Or, maybe, the series may exploit the possibility of embarking on two different paths, one restoring the Fantastic Beasts films to a more appropriate field of content, and another following Dumbledore as he… figures out his secrets, I guess?
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is out now in all theatres and is a fun enough watch if you’re already a fan… or not.