Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Synopsis – Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches. They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.
Dumbledore, Newt Scamander, and their loyal allies unite to save the wizarding world in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Serving as the third chapter in a so-so prequel franchise, Warner Brothers’ attempts so far at reigniting the magic of their marquee Harry Potter series continue to feel notably underwhelming.
The inaugural chapter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, laid out a promising-enough foundation between the eccentric magizoologist Newt and his muggle companion Jacob. A deft balance between whimsy and blockbuster thrills was quickly shattered with its sequel, Crimes of Grindelwald, a dysfunctional and overstuffed follow-up that failed to conjure an alluring spell. In between the chaos, Warner Brothers’ endured several public relations nightmares (the removal of Johnny Depp and numerous Ezra Miller incidents) that magnified the franchise’s onscreen and offscreen dysfunction.
If the first two entries represented dual opposites, The Secrets of Dumbledore serves as a fittingly mediocre middle-ground. It’s clear the creative team viewed this third entry as an opportunity to reshape and reflect the magical brand’s best qualities. Despite earnest attempts to course-correct the franchise, The Secrets of Dumbledore ultimately succumbs to the errors of its predecessors.
Credit to Warner Brothers for making a few welcomed changes. Stepping in for Johnny Depp as the xenophobic, muggle-hatting Grindewald, Mads Mikkelsen extracts menace and charisma as a radical wizard with romantic ties to Dumbledore. Depp’s self-serious shtick failed to capture the intriguing undertones behind the character. Mikkelsen and Law share an emotionally-charged rapport while effectively capturing their complicated history.
The decision to incorporate Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves also adds much-needed clarity. J.K. Rowling’s attempts at adapting her own material showcased her weaknesses in screenwriting – with the author often fixating on world-building exposition at the expense of meaningful characters and a balanced narrative. Kloves’ wisdom helps tremendously in making sense of the busy plotting. His touch improves Secrets of Dumbledore’s balance of blockbuster thrills and fan-favorite moments.
Unfortunately, the welcomed improvements cannot mend a wayward franchise. Kloves attempts to put a bandaid on the series’ problems with an exposition-laden first act, which clunkily shouts plot points from previous films in an overworked attempt to get viewers up to speed. The film never recovers from there, shifting around characters as the story begins to run in circles. Even with some subplots – like Kather Waterson’s role as Newt’s love interest – getting sidelined, Secrets of Dumbledore still spins too many narrative plates at once. One plate featuring clumsy political allusions to Nazi Germany’s extremist bigotry serves as a well-intended meditation that stumbles to articulate anything of note.
Law, Mikkelsen, and Eddie Redmayne’s quirky charm as Newt remain compelling presences. It’s just a shame that Kloves and Rowling can’t give these characters focus in a film overstuffed with uninteresting characters. Ezra Miller delivers a career-worst performance as Dumbledor’s cursed family member Credence, sulking and overacting in his misguided attempts to draw heart-wrenching despair. Miller spotlights a supporting cast left with little to do other than play generically pleasant figures. Even fan-favorite Dan Folger seems to be going through the motions as the series’ human everyman.
Secrets of Dumbledore, like its predecessors, still struggles to draw much attachment from me (even the original was just ok). Director David Yates recreates his grim Harry Potter aesthetics from the latter chapters with enough success. That said, the magic behind those films feels noticeably absent here. The spell behind Harry Potter’s success lies in its development of complex characters over a multi-film arc. Warner Brothers and the Fantastic Beasts’ creative team certainly vies for a similarly arresting narrative, yet the series continues to draw ambivalent reactions for most viewers.
Wrapping up with an earnest-enough conclusion for its characters, Secrets of Dumbledore almost seems self-aware of its dead-on-arrival status. The franchise will likely go down as Warner Brothers’ so-so attempt at reigniting the Harry Potter money train.