With the wave of a magic wand, David Yates, J.K. Rowling, and Eddie Redmayne invite us back into the Wizarding World with its third entry, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
I confess that I’ve not read a book in Rowling’s successful series, I have seen the previous two Fantastic Beasts films, so I was at least familiar with the characters that inhabit its world.
“Invite” might be too strong a word. . . . . “coax”?! No, that’s going in the wrong direction.
Ah! We’re lulled into the Wizarding World. An appetite exists for these characters and their adventures, which the film provides in spades.
It was fun to see Newt Scamander attend to the needs of the fantastical beasts and the people he cares for so deeply. Redmayne plays Scamander with his trademark tactile performance, slightly hunched, as if he feels he doesn’t deserve the opportunities he is offered in these films. At the same time, an underlying seriousness pervades his initiatives. As Albus Dumbledore, the film’s namesake, Jude Law, plays the character as low-key as possible, an imperative given the circumstances set about in the story.
Rowling, who wrote an original screenplay and then adapted that screenplay with co-producer Steve Kloves, set Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore in 1932. Despite the CGI that permeates the film’s environs, we get a real sense that we’re in China, Berlin, and New York throughout the film, both a positive, when it works, and a negative when it becomes too much. That adaptation, though, is this film’s challenge.
The film’s first half focuses on character exposition and less on the fantastical beasts. Admittedly, the Qilin that Newt helps to birth is the subject of several laughs and a set-up for the third act. An overarching melancholic somberness injects itself into the characters and the story that I hadn’t expected; the characters, heroes, and foes alike are endearing.
Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is easily the bubbliest personality of the bunch. Kowalski exudes admiration, respect, and joy at the world surrounding him, despite giving up Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein. Callum Turner stars as Theseus Scamander, Newt’s older brother. Turner is a solid presence in the film; however, the story has trouble fitting the character into itself.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Gellert Grindelwald, taking over for Johnny Depp, who departed the series at the start of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore‘s principal photography. Mikkelsen is an excellent foil for Jude Law. The story lacks the punch and pizzaz that Depp brought to the role. Perhaps this is to have the role recast. Grindelwald is in the film as much as Newt is, and he plays the character with delicious evilness and cruelty as he tries to assume control over the Wizarding World.
The following statement might get me banished to a blood pact similar to that between Dumbledore and Grindelwald; however, the film’s highlight is in Ezra Miller’s razor-sharp performance of Credence Barebone. One of the drawbacks of 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was a lack of Credence in that film. The Secrets of Dumbledore makes up for that. Fortuitously, because of the casting change between Depp and Mikkelsen, Miller does offer more in this film, thanks to Rowling’s story and Yates’ direction. Mikkelsen’s quiescent stature makes this Grindelwald dangerous. His movements have a purpose, whereas Miller’s Credence has a character arc and development.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore runs 142 minutes, and Yates uses every single digital data bit he can. There are two centerpiece sequences in the film; you’ll know them when you see them, punctuated through James Newton Howard’s lush, playful score. One, in particular, is an homage to Ocean’s Eleven or The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). George Richmond’s cinematography is epic in its scope while conveying the film’s somberness, underlying the circumstances and the dangers our heroes face.
A sense of jingoism brings the outside world into the story, where the characters take on a rote attitude.
Despite the rote, somber characterizations and feel of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore puts its fans first. As much as I appreciated the film, it would be like my introducing someone to Star Trek for the first time. Fantasy isn’t for everyone. However, the fantastic Wizarding World brings real-world situations to its audiences in the same way that Star Trek conveyed ideas to me.
It’s just that this Fantastic Beasts’ magic has worn off.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Directed by David Yates
From a screenplay by J.K. Rowling & Steve Kloves, based upon a screenplay by J.K. Rowling
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Mads Mikkelsen
PG-13, 142 minutes, Warner Bros.