by Ian Morton
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a spellbinding return to the Harry Potter world but like previous outings, the third entry in the Fantastic Beasts series still feels more like a continuing anthology of short stories than it does a cohesive franchise!
Eddie Redmayne returns as the reclusive Newt Scamander, magizoologist and author of the infamous Fantastic Beasts book the series gets its name from. Rather than following his adventures with his curious collection of animals however, he is further tasked with aiding Dumbledore (played rather excellently by Jude Law again) on a quest to take down Grindelwald. With Jacob (Dan Fogler) in tow and a cast of returning and new faces by their side, it’s up to a rather unconnected group of individuals to take down the rising evil with Grindelwald at the helm.
Carrying you through a meaty 2 hour and 23 minute run time is Director David Yates impeccable direction paired with a truly delightful cast of characters. Yates, now fully experienced in the Potterverse (he has 7 director credits so far on IMDb), knows exactly how the world functions and it’s reflected in every frame. The globetrotting adventure blends physical sets and smartly utilised CGI to balance the impossibilities of the magical world with the limitations of current filmmaking. The result is some jaw dropping moments that not only feel fully realised but also have texture and depth that shine compared to a slew of recent blockbusters (*cough, Death on the Nile, *cough).
Populating the beautifully crafted world is the familiarly charming array of characters that viewers know and love from the earlier entries. There are a few missing faces – more probably due to behind the scenes filming conflicts than plot reasons – that do feel a little obvious than they should at this stage in the production but the gaps are duly filled with yet more personalities that fans will no doubt fall in love with. It’s a real testament to Fiona Weir’s skill at putting together a cast, assembling a team of talent that just pop with charisma in whatever combination they’re put in, regardless of how long they remain in the series. A stroke of genius this year is the introduction of Mads Mikkelson’s Grindelwald. Replacing Johnny Depp as the film’s villain, he brings such magnetic malevolence to the role that almost every frame drips with evil; his posture and body language saying just as much as his dialogue. It’s a strong replacement that makes you question what the previous movies would have played out like had Mikkelson been in the role from the beginning.
For all it gets right however, FB:SoD has a story that is fundamentally broken. My main criticism of the first films was that every character felt out of place, tenuously shackled to one franchisable narrative rather than thriving as a set of perfectly functional individual stories. Everyone is seemingly thrown into a situation that none of them really needed to be in and told it’s imperative they stick to a plan that no one really understands why. Secrets of Dumbledore suffers the same issues, once more functioning like a series of loosely interconnecting fables, constantly in flux rather than complimenting each other as a connected whole.
Many elements of the first two adventures are solved here, but it comes at a cost. Unravelling the overbaked soap opera twists from the second outing creates a slew of tonal issues and highlights just how disconnected everything is in the process. This results in a lack of fanfare at every discernable moment of heroism as the narrative never really gives you any reason to get behind the characters or give weight to any plight. You could almost pluck characters out of the story and it would have very little impact on wider events, creating a problem in a series that requires you to invest in what’s happening. As the credits roll, you’re left with little affection for where things have ended and that’s a problem when trying to sustain a franchise over a lengthy 5 film arc.
When The Hobbit trilogy was announced over a decade ago, no one could quite understand how Warner Bros could make a trilogy from the short source material, until it was later revealed it would be padded out with dashes of ‘creative freedom’. The Secrets Of Dumbledore, as well as its predecessors, feels hauntingly similar as it desperately tries to make a huge franchise out of a bunch of smaller ideas. For fans of author JK Rowling’s world, there is a lot to like thanks in large part to the pedigree and experience of those involved, it’s just a shame such a disparate plot is making the series harder and harder to get excited about.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is out in UK cinemas Friday 8th April.