The Friendly Film Fan Reviews the latest entry to the Wizarding World canon.
When the Fantastic Beasts series of films began, already a thinly-drawn idea spun from a concept so small within the world it inhabited that it barely affected the Harry Potter films from whence it originated, the basic conceit was a series of adventure stories centered around the travels of one Newt Scamander, a bumbling but loveable magic zoologist who traveled the world in search of magic creatures in order to document their existences. Now that this series is three films deep, however, it would seem that Newt is all but an afterthought, an obligation of having set up an entire first film around him and now being stuck with the character as controversial author J.K. Rowling’s bumbling scripts demonstrate more concern with wizarding world politics than with any of the wonder she became famous for having created.
What The Secrets of Dumbledore opts to do with the now-defunct foundation is reshape it into more of a political thriller, but the Harry Potter – and indeed Wizarding World – universe, wants to do it all in one go, rather than establish this as any sort of buildup from the jump. The foundational elements of this series have given way to something best left to mythos and backstory, that being the origins of Dumbledore and his infamous dual with the wizard Grindelwald. And in this giving, the series makes the most common mistake of any spin-off property attached to a well-beloved work: trying to be like that well-beloved work, rather than stand as its own entirely separate thing. It didn’t work for The Hobbit films when they tried to be Lord of the Rings, and it doesn’t work here.
The Secrets of Dumbledore is as dry and frankly boring as a film like it might have ever managed to be. To compare the experience, it’s like a dry chicken breast or roast; sure, there’s meat here, but no flavor, protein but nothing I would want to bite into for my next meal. I genuinely cannot remember ever sitting in a Wizarding World film and being outright bored. Though it does make some improvements on the mess that preceded it – Mads Mikkelsen is a better Grindelwald, the one ridiculous exposition scene is only two minutes long rather than eight, Jude Law gets a little bit more to do than last time, and it’s more tonally consistent – the scattershot script makes the film itself incredibly messy, bouncing from character to character as they traverse three different narratives, almost all of which feel like placeholders so they can stretch perhaps half an hour of actually interesting story to two and a half. This all-over-the-place narrative may not be quite as terribly conceived as The Crimes of Grindelwald was, but at least that film stuck to its guns and threw things at the wall; none of it stuck, but one could at least admire the audacity of its throwing arm. Secrets of Dumbledore, on the other hand, may be more consistent, but its consistency is in that rather than trying a bunch of things that don’t work, it hardly tries anything at all.
This is all before diving into the characters and performances, some of which work pretty well – as previously stated, Mads Mikkelsen and Jude Law are the best parts of the film regarding their individual efforts – and some of which couldn’t work regardless of how much of themselves the actor puts in. Eddie Redmayne is fine as Newt, but the film seems to have virtually no interest in him apart from how he serves the narrative of Dumbledore, rather than being his own character (remember, the lead character of the first movie whose story we’re supposed to have been following), ditto his brother played by Callum Turner. The problems arise when taking a closer gander towards the rest of the supporting cast. One can tell Dan Folger is a great actor as he portrays Jacob, but the character himself continues to be one of the franchise’s most inconsistent, charming and charismatic one minute, then making the dumbest decisions of anyone the next, ditto Queenie (Alison Sudol) who was one of the best parts of the first film and now feels like an afterthought, a ball to toss around whenever we need to give Jacob something to do. The strangest performance, however, belongs to Jessica Williams, whom I quite enjoyed in Booksmart, but here seems to have been directed to say every line the exact same way, sapping the character of any energy or charm she might have otherwise had. Listen to how she speaks her dialogue, almost as if she was told to do a British accent she can’t keep up, and you’ll see what I mean. (And, to state the obvious, it is not lost on me that Katherine Turner is hardly included in this movie at all after being the most vocal of the previous two films’ casts to speak out against J.K. Rowling’s notorious transphobia, and doesn’t appear in the main thrust of the film at all.)
For those attached to the Harry Potter universe and all that it entails, The Secrets of Dumbledore may contain some morsel of mediocrity that feels like success, but for those like myself who engage with this material more on the filmmaking front, that mediocrity will leave a sour taste. Improvement over poor quality is only improvement, but it will not make something good, and this film’s messiness betrays any interest an audience might have in its narrative by forcing them to wait over two hours before moving forward with it in a meaningful fashion. Perhaps the Wizarding World has one or even two more stories left to tell with these characters, in this space, but for all intents and purposes, the intrigue, the wonder, the magic is well and truly gone.
I’m giving “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” a 6.1/10.
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.