Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – movie review

Call me a muggle but I was left cold by Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the bloated third instalment in the Fantastic Beasts series created by Harry Potter author J K Rowling as part of the extended Potterverse. The series serves as a kind of prequel to the Harry Potter series, and explores the world of wizardy in the first half of the twentieth century. The Fantastic Beasts series follows the adventures of nerdy magizoologist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), whose book is required reading at Hogwart’s, as he is caught up in the ongoing battle for control of the wizarding world.

Dumbledore (Jude Law) approaches Scamander to help him with a dangerous mission that could forever shape the Wizarding World. There is to be an upcoming election to choose the President of the International Confederation of Wizards, the powerful person who will lead this world. But the evil Gellert Grindenwald (now played by the fine Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen replacing the out-of-favour Johnny Depp) has plans to rig the election and declare war on the world of the muggles. This elaborate plot revolves around a mystical creature knowns as a Qilin, that can supposedly see inside a person’s soul and judge if they are pure of heart. Dumbledore’s plan to thwart Grindenwald’s ambitions is to sew confusion, and it works beyond his wildest expectations as even some members of the audience will be confused.

The Secrets of Dumbledore has been scripted by Rowling and longtime Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, who gives the material a semblance of coherence, and also hints at the future direction for the series. Kloves also works in many subtle references to the Potter movies. Kloves and Rowling work in overt references to Germany in the 1930s and the rise of Nazism as well as making allusions to the rigged US elections. But the film is bloated and overplotted with many narrative strands running throughout the film. The pacing is a little uneven at times and there are some sections where it drags. The plot follows many of the tropes of the spy thriller genre, albeit replacing spy craft and guns with wands and magic.

This is a special effects driven blockbuster, with lots of green screen and CGI to bring the settings to life. The film has been shot in a number of spectacular locations ranging from Berlin to London and New York to Bhutan in the Himalayas. The production design team has done a great job of recreating the grandeur of Berlin of the 1930s. Cinematographer George Richmond (Free Guy) also does a great job with the visuals.

Much of this film centres on Dumbledore’s backstory and his complicated relationship with Grindenwald. Redmayne looks bored for much the film, but Mikkelsen’s presence is welcome as he brings gravitas and a hint of menace to Grindenwald, and his understated performance is a better fit for the character than Depp. We get the return of many familiar characters from the previous film with Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the bemused muggle baker who provides some comic relief, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and Grindenwald’s chief henchman Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). We also get some new characters to add spice to the mix, including Scamander’s wizarding brother Theseus (Callum Turner), who works in the Ministry of Magic, and Dumbledore’s younger brother Abertforth (Richard Coyle) who runs some sort of pub. But ultimately it’s hard to care about some of them.

David Yates returns to the director’s chair and he is familiar with this magical world having helmed four other films in the Harry Potter series as well as the first two instalments of this extended Potterverse. The score from James Newton Howard is spectacular.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third in the proposed series of five films, but it will mainly appeal to fans of Harry Potter and this magical world. Us mere muggles should probably look elsewhere for our holiday entertainment.

Greg King

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