An indeterminate amount of years after the events of The Crimes Of Grindelwald, we reunite with magi-zoologist Newt Scamander [Redmayne] as he witnesses the birth of a rare creature: the qilin. This event is interrupted when Credence Barebone (revealed to actually be Aurelius Dumbledore, played by Ezra Miller) arrives, kills the mother and steals the calf. However, Newt discovers the mother bore twins and rescues the surviving orphan creature. Meanwhile, muggle Jacob Kowalski [Fogler] is recruited by witch and teacher Lally Hicks [Williams], who enlists him to work with Dumbledore [Law] on an intricately unpredictable plan to outfox notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald [Mikkelsen].
The Fantastic Beasts chapter of the Wizarding World universe has had a rocky start. The opening instalment was perfectly serviceable but entirely average. Whereas its follow-up was a convoluted, disjointed mess that threatened to derail the entire franchise. So the big question is, does this third film succeed where the others failed? In short: sort of but mostly no.
Given the sheer wealth of income this property generates and the incredibly fervent fanbase, it’s hardly any surprise Warner Bros spares no expense when it comes to these films. As such, the production design is lavish, the costumes are top-rate, the cinematography is strong and the casting includes many exceptionally talented individuals; all to the film’s benefit. So even when the story is insultingly dumb, these elements still swell triumphantly. The only real additions here are course corrections. Director David Yates has been a staple of the Potter cinematic universe since his introduction to it, back in 2007, and as such has a fairly decent handle on what makes these films work. This manifests in a slightly reinvigorated sense of fun and adventure to compliment the fairly engaging political machinations. And yet the effort feels too little, with a lot of the glaring issues still present.
One of the biggest talking points is the re-casting of Gellert Grindelwald. Given the fact this mysterious character has changed his appearance multiple times, the new face doesn’t come off as particularly unusual – but it is curious that the film makes zero attempts to explain why he looks different. More importantly, regardless of what you thought of Johnny Depp or Colin Farrell’s respective performances in the same role, Mads Mikkelsen was always the right choice and goes a long way to make this much maligned character genuinely intriguing; bringing a wonderful subtle disdain and megalomaniacal drive to his performance.
Dumbledore, on the other hand, continues to be a point of contention. The blood-oath spell that prevents the two spurned lovers from actively going after one another is an interesting restriction (if a little plot-holey at times) but in spite of this, he’s still able to pop-up constantly with convenient pointers. And while this subterfuge and ambiguity served somewhat charmingly when it was an old man beguiling a bunch of kids in the main Potter films, the unknowable stratagem of the younger version is significantly more frustrating. And while Law’s portrayal is otherwise admirable, it’s really hard to get past his weird accent. In an attempt to mimic Michael Gambon’s lilting Irish tones, Law ends up closer to something West Country; leaving you thinking he was somehow Hagrid’s dad. And for those who would proffer it’s too difficult and he’s simply making it his own, Richard Coyle, by direct comparison, does a great – albeit fairly wasted – turn as the young Aberforth Dumbledore (originally played by Ciarán Hinds).
All of which serves to reinforce the problem that Newt is still a passenger in his own movie. Again, one could argue, this could have been an intentional and desired move: a tool to highlight how this soft, animal-lover has no ambition for the limelight or power but, if we’re being honest, that doesn’t fit. Yet Redmayne continues to understand the brief and successfully embodies his coy contribution to the world. One which, it has to be noted, is devoid of a love interest. And I don’t mean as we’ve seen previously, where Newt and Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston) are at odds, bound by their duties and loyalties. I mean that she is completely absent from this film. Whatever the reason for shelving her, the omission is noted and feels like a lazy excuse for not knowing what to do with the character. That being said, once again, Jacob’s simple charm utterly saves this movie. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the playful earnestness and purity Dan Fogler brings to Jacob Kowalski is one of the only reasons I look forward to seeing these films. Which, is actually one of the most damning indictments I can offer: a film about a world of magical individuals, politics and creatures and the thing I’m most excited for is the befuddled adventures of Joe-Everyman.
See, the trouble is, a lot of the set pieces have little-to-no lasting impact. During a dinner hosted at the German Ministry of Magic, an attack leads to a daring escape, with magical energy crackling through the air, chandeliers falling and a bridge of book pages conjured to provide a getaway. It’s a nice visual but it’s so brief that after a few minutes and one passing comment, the event seems less important than initially presented. Another example is the first (and if memory serves, only) encounter between Credence and Dumbledore. This is the first time the pair cross paths since the former learned of his true identity but the ensuing fight feels low stakes and without peril due to the lack of noticeable collateral damage, before feebly limping to a non-resolution. But the prime example of forgettable inconsequentialities is in fact the entire first half of the movie. That may sound excessive but I’m not being facetious. There’s a whole counterpoint espionage plan, which boils down to an attempt to outwit Grindelwald’s foresight with unpredictability, that ultimately goes nowhere and renders a lot of the first hour kind of irrelevant.
Before I summate, it would be remise of me not to at least address the elephant in the room. There are many beloved properties whose creators held/hold undesirable or hateful beliefs. Subsequently, there will be those who refuse to support these movies to avoid financial benefit going to the series’ creator. And I fully respect that. Because while there may be some enquiries about the film’s plot and the character portrayals, the main question I will encounter will undoubtedly be: do Rowling’s political views elbow their way into the film? For those who want this question answered, I’m honestly not sure. There was a rather suspect moment, given an element of gravitas – that being the leader of the International Federation of Wizards stating “all voices deserve to be heard, even those that we find disagreeable,” which could have a coded meaning but considering the iniquitous outcome of that character and sentiment, it’s highly unlikely.
But back to the film itself. Despite the occasional new discovery, location or creature, this film is entirely devoid of wonder. Furthermore, surprisingly little actually happens. Sure, there’s plenty of manoeuvring and positioning but so little actual substance, leaving The Secrets Of Dumbledore a banal middle act of mediocre worth. Entirely less convoluted and bat-shit as the second film but too flat and dull to assuage anyone who has already checked out. With two more instalments to go, I feel that unless we’re going to get some sort of incredibly impressive escalation, this will inevitably be remembered solely by the fanbase’s most hardcore of devotees.
08 April 2022
The Scene To Look Out For:
**this entire paragraph is littered with spoilers**
So much of this film hinges on a plot to capture this rare qilin beast (basically a scaly deer but, as with a lot of the other creations throughout Rowling’s universe, is actually lifted from mythology – in this case, that of China), kill it, then resurrect it using necromancy and teach it to bow to Grindelwald. The reason being, this is an ancient magical custom and how wizards and witches originally chose their leader. At some point the tradition fell out of favour and was replaced by democracy. Allegedly the qilin can sense true purity in a soul and bows to that individual, marking them as appropriate to lead. So the plan goes ahead and the little incorruptible deer picks Grindelwald – a man whose first and second official acts respectively was torture followed by an announcement of a race war. With the entire wizarding world watching, Newt is able to bring forth the authentic (by which I mean alive) twin scaly deer, which obviously rejects Grindelwald. But who will it pick as the wizarding leader? Can’t be a democratic decision, people have come all this way to see the little quadruped make its choice! Anyway, it picks Dumbledore and I had to fight the urge to shout “oh fuck off” into the cinema. We’ve been told these things look for the purest of hearts and the noblest of souls but Dumbledore’s actions have always been suspect. After a genuinely amusing delivery from Law, he thanks the CGI animal and basically says “try again,” at which point it picks one of the two eligible candidates. I won’t name them, they don’t have any notable impact or presence. You may wonder why I highlighted all that. Because it’s dumb. It’s remarkably dumb fan-fiction posing as official canon and it’s endemic of why this franchise will never be able to escape the characters and setting laid out in the first book.
**this too is a thicket of spoilers**
For those who read my previous reviews, you’ll know that I absolutely loved the dynamic between Jacob Kowalski and Queenie Goldstein [Sudol] and how outraged I was by the completely unnecessary wedge that was driven between them to generate conflict. Not just any conflict, the fact that Queenie would actively reject her family and friends to join a murderous dark wizard at the end of the last film. But having spent some time with Grindelwald and seen how he conducts himself, she finally comes to the conclusion that he may be a bad person. So by the story’s close she is reunited with Jacob and all is forgiven. You’d think I’d be happy but her flip-flopping being so poorly executed only proves how pointless her betrayal was in the first place. Honestly infuriating cheap writing.
“Dangerous times favour dangerous men.”
In A Few Words:
“Woefully underwhelming lacklustre fare.”
Total Score: 2/5