Directed by David Yates.
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Oliver Masucci, Richard Coyle, William Nadylam, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Victoria Yeates, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Dave Wong, Hebe Beardsall, and Fiona Glascott.
In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, though he’s unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.
I have to confess; I didn’t remember a damn thing about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald before doing some prescreening preparation for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. It’s a problem I had coming into The Crimes of Grindelwald, and based on the quality here, I will run into an issue before watching the inevitable fourth century. I’m bringing this up because I never have this problem with other series despite how many movies I watch throughout any given year. Fantastic Beasts as a saga (which continues to be directed by Harry Potter veteran David Yates based on screenplays from author J.K. Rowling, this time bringing back Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves to assist and presumably figure out where things are going wrong) has been a jumble of mundane political intrigue, similar to the Star Wars prequels.
However, there was some promise when it became clear that The Secrets of Dumbledore was in a position to place the broken romance between Albus Dumbledore (a returning Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, an upgrade from Johnny Depp in the role evoking more sinister manipulation when it comes to the Ministry of Magic and vying for control) front and center. I would also wager that if you poll a sizable pool of Harry Potter fans on what they want to see, a good amount will express interest in this relationship, the love, and the painful aftermath, with the latter amassing followers to start a war against Muggles (no magic humans).
The setting of The Secrets of Dumbledore also happens to be pre-World War II, which somewhat sets a distasteful tone. Grindelwald’s behavior is a lot like Donald Trump with a brain and the ability to get things done, which not only makes him more dangerous but more like that other monster. Given the character’s insistence on the supremacy of wizards and magic users, the parallels are there. While this is not inherently a bad idea, J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves have no idea how to give it emotional or meaningful weight, so it comes down to watching Grindelwald use a defenseless Quilin (an Asian unicorn) nefariously to build up his army.
At least it gives the titular beasts something to do. There happens to be a second of the adorable creatures in possession of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, once the protagonist of this series, now fading into a bystander role), which naturally must be protected at all costs. What the beast is capable of is best left discovered, but it should be said that Newt is once again joined a group of friends ranging from Muggle baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, once again a comedic relief standout), his brother Theseus (a bland Callum Turner), and more new and old characters that don’t register. Even Queenie (Alison Sudol), the witch once romantically entangled with Jacob, is reduced to an uninteresting Grindelwald lackey.
Offsetting some of this are genuinely dazzling special effects (the magic battles remain a highlight, as color streams burst from wands clashing and colliding), the beasts stay at the light to observe and learn about (especially given one of them plays a critical role in the story), and the ensemble is likable enough (in particular, Mads Mikkelsen radiates terrifying narcissistic leader energy). However, while it’s easy to buy into Dumbledore and Grindelwald once having been a romantic duo, The Secrets of Dumbledore still seems afraid or disinterested in fleshing out the details. There’s not much new I could tell you about their love.
The film strives to be a social commentary on the many forms of bigotry but doesn’t say anything, especially since it refuses to go to certain places. I’m not sure what else one would expect from J.K. Rowling (who constantly spews transphobic remarks online) telling this story of all stories. Even if you don’t care about that angle, it’s hard to imagine anyone shocked by the titular secrets of Dumbledore. Yes, there is a delightful charm to these characters and the occasional exciting magical set piece, but I’m probably going to go back to Wikipedia yet again to refresh my memory by the time part four rolls around. Someone find the secret to remembering anything about these movies.