The last few years have been slightly tumultuous for the Wizarding World franchise and its fans. Everyone’s favourite boy wizard departed with a bang in 2011’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and Warner Bros. has tried everything in its power to keep the magic alive since. Their answer? The Fantastic Beasts series, now releasing its third instalment, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE.
Debuting with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2016, fans joined magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in 1920s New York on the hunt for his lost magical creatures. The film received a positive reception but its 2018 sequel did not. The Crimes of Grindelwald focused primarily on the rise of evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), and was met with negativity from fans and critics alike. With the future of the series already tarnished, Warner Bros. was plagued with a publicity nightmare. Depp was in the middle of a public scandal and was fired from the series, and fans turned against author J.K. Rowling due to controversial remarks on Twitter.
One pandemic later, THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE hopes to get this once beloved franchise back on track, and thankfully does - for the most part. As suggested by the title, the film focuses on Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), as his former friend and lover Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen) attempts to wage war against muggles. Dumbledore is unable to move against him, so he enlists Newt, muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) and a host of new faces to join his motley crew and stop Grindelwald.
While the previous instalment lacked the whimsy so synonymous with the Potterverse, The Secrets of Dumbledore succeeds in making this franchise fun and enjoyable once more. This is largely due to utilising what made the first film a hit - its group dynamic. Eddie Redmayne reminds audiences why he was the perfect choice to play Newt. His awkward, quirky and good- hearted nature makes him the heart of this film and franchise. Dan Fogler is once again delightful as muggle Jacob, bringing warmth and relatability to the story. There are new additions also, the standout being Lally (Jessica Williams), a U.S. wizarding professor who steals each scene with her charisma and charm. The beasts in the film’s title also offer some terrific laughs, easily making this the funniest Beasts film. Newt’s Niffler and Bowtruckel make for an iconic duo.
As the title promises, we indeed uncover secrets to Jude Law’s Dumbledore. This is a very different Dumbledore compared to the long bearded, majestically robed and mysteriously wise version in the Potter films. However, as layers are peeled, we learn more about the man who became that old wizard. Now for the big question - how does Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald shape up against Johnny Depp’s? Fans can rest easy, because Mikkelsen’s version is far superior to Depp’s. Grindelwald is cold and calculated, as Mikkelsen gives an understated yet chilling performance. It’s a shame he wasn’t initially cast from the beginning.
While THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE is a vast improvement over its predecessor, one can’t help but notice the overarching issues this series has. There is a disconnect between the two main storylines belonging to Newt and Dumbledore. Whose film is it really? Is this a Fantastic Beasts or a Harry Potter movie? It seems like the filmmakers aren’t so sure either. There’s a few Potter throwbacks and references in the film, and the characters even visit everyone’s favourite magical school. While it’s exciting and fun to return to Hogwarts, it’s not all that necessary, and is an obvious play on nostalgia that isn’t fully earned. The inevitable showdown between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is also teased, which might explain why it feels like the story is building up to something bigger. This is the third installment though, and that luxury can’t really be afforded at this point, making the film’s third act slightly anticlimactic. Fans will have to accept that the Fantastic Beasts series will never quite match up to the standard of the Potter films, and while flawed, THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE does recapture the magic once again.