Friday, April 22, 2022

Green Phoenix - Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Review

Fantastic Beasts- The Secrets of Dumbledore.png

I must admit that I am so very glad that I am once again able to routinely attend film releases in theaters. While I enjoy streaming as much as the next guy, there is fundamentally something different about watching a new film on a massive screen, with surround sound and a comfy chair (popcorn included). Last week, I was able to take an opportunity to watch the new Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with Cendoo, the review of which you can find right here on Emerald Rangers.

This week, I was able to enjoy something of a back-to-back feature as both my sister and girlfriend were able to go to individual showings of the latest film in the Fantastic Beasts series, the prequel franchise to J.K. Rowling's generation defining Harry Potter series: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. An experience I knew that I wanted to have in a theater, despite my opinions on the Fantastic Beasts franchise as a whole.

Rest assured, I have an editorial in the works that will go into much greater detail about the franchise as a whole, but today I will focus on the third film in this...complicated, prequel series.

Is The Secrets of Dumbledore a secret worth knowing, or is the film, much like its authorial inspiration is increasingly becoming, that which must not be named?

  • Directed by David Yates
  • Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 142 Minutes


Five years after the events of The Crimes of Grindlewald, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald's influence and power is growing exponentially and echoes of war are on the horizon. Unable to move against Grindlewald due to a magical pact, Albus Dumbledore recruits the famed magizoologist Newt Scamander to lead a team of wizards (and one Muggle) to stop Grindlewald's plot to take over the magical community and kickstart a war with the Muggle world. There mission will take them from the streets of Berlin to the mountains of Bhutan, and challenge all of their trust in Dumbledore and each other.
But how exactly does one plot against a wizard that can see the future? And could the secrets from the Dumbledore's family past come to haunt the entire wizarding world, especially when one of those secrets has been unleashed by Grindelwald with the hope of killing Albus once and for all?



I make it no secret that I have not been a fan of the Fantastic Beasts in the past, finding tremendous issues with aspects of the thematic world-building in terms of the first film, and the absolutely abysmal plot presented to us in the second film. So when I say that The Secrets of Dumbledore were a surprisingly refreshing and enjoyable experience to watch, know that this is coming from an individual who went into this film excited but openly expecting to be severely disappointed.
As one should come to expect from a film in the Harry Potter franchise, the film is absolutely stunning from a visual and auditory perspective, with amazing music composed by the legendary James Howard really capturing the whimsy of the Wizarding World in a way I haven't felt since the earlier Harry Potter films. In fact, that kind of describes the whole film general tone, which I will go into greater detail in a bit. The visuals, including the creature design is just spectacular and each new location feels unique and distinct, always ensuring that you are aware of where the characters are at all times (very important as there is a lot of moving around for all the characters). Suffice it to say, The Secrets of Dumbledore receives the highest marks from me in terms of its visual and auditory presentation.
Though in point of fact, that isn't something I would dismiss any of the previous films for; though I would rate The Crimes of Grindlewald lower due to the overall banality of its visual designs and far too dark lighting, which only hindered its story. I expect films in the Wizarding World franchise to look and sound amazing, it would be more amazing if the films didn't look amazing given their budget and the legacy that the franchise is playing in.
Where The Secrets of Dumbledore needed to impress me is with the films thematic tone and narrative style, and thankfully that is much better than its immediate predecessors. The first two films in this new series didn't really impress me all that much from a thematic and narrative perspective, as you can well imagine. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a perfectly serviceable stand-alone adventure fair that ended up getting bogged down by its thematic world-building and the forcing of elements necessary for creating a larger scale film franchise (i.e. the unnecessary inclusion of one Gellert Grindlewald in the final moments of the movie). The Crimes of Grindlewald was even worse, since the entire film was bogged down by a dark atmosphere, dreary messages, and a strange murder mystery plot that actually ended up being a red herring that held no actual bearing on the real plot. Couple that with really odd "reveals" regarding certain characters that made absolutely no goddamn sense and The Crimes of Grindlewald left The Secrets of Dumbledore in a hell of a position to actually progress a decent story for the next two movies to follow-up on.
Actually, this need to pick-up the pieces left in the wake of a previous film's disaster, whilst also telling its own compelling stand-alone story really made me compare The Secrets of Dumbledore to Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, as the two films share a surprising number of similarities, mostly their role within the larger ethos of their respective franchises (Films trying hard to stick the landing after the previous film tripped out the airplane with no parachute). How The Secrets of Dumbledore accomplished this was by actually focusing the film on a narrative story that I believe actually works for the like of Newt Scamander and for which I think the entire franchise should've been focused on from the very beginning: the spy thriller plot.
The entire plot is focused around Newt Scamander recruiting a team of friends and allies to stage a series of plots, heists, and other schemes in an effort to thwart Grindlewald's political machinations and plotting. The whole film feels like a magical James Bond plotline or something out of Oceans 11 and I found myself completely enthralled. The film felt light and fun, while still maintaining a sense of tension not in whether or not our heroes would succeed, but in trying to work out how it would all play out. The mysteries and strange occurrences in the plot actually helped to feel more at ease, as Grindlewald and Albus Dumbledore actually felt like two chessmaster, helped no doubt by the stunning performances by Jude Law and newcomer Mads Mikkelsen.
Speaking of which, I'll just come out and say it. Mads Mikkelsen is so much better for this role than Johnny Depp was. Depp is a fine actor and is great in some roles, but I just don't buy him as this suave and charismatic political leader that Grindlewald needed to be in this film. Mikkelsen just has a presence and charm that really helped me to believe that he was capable of being a totally different kind of threat to Voldemort. In fact, this film was the first time I ever felt that Grindlewald was actually a greater threat to the world than Voldemort ever was.

That charm that Mikkelsen presented was also wonderfully contrasted and met by Jude Law's performance as a young Albus Dumbledore. Law just gives the future headmaster a sense of passion, fun, and intelligence that really brings you into his world and provides a surprising degree of vulnerability to a man that was mostly the implacable mentor in the Harry Potter franchise. Of course, the rest of the cast performs their roles well, with Eddie Redmayne still just absolutely killing it as Newt Scamander, but I still think that the interactions between Dumbledore and Grindlewald are what make this film.

The Secrets of Dumbledore still has a few issues. For one, it did feel like the film spent most of its runtime trying to justify, retcon, or recontextualize the narrative and thematic decisions made in previous films. While I think that these do work, it does leave the film feeling like its wraps up almost too much; with my sister even describing the film as feeling like an ending, rather than as the midpoint of a five-film series. In addition, the film seems to streamline a lot of Grindlewald's progress, almost as if the film is fast-tracking the plot to get us to where previous films should've gotten us, while also leaving us sort of back to square one in terms of Grindlewald. Finally, the film really doesn't seem to know what to do with Creedence Barebone. The film seemed to almost go out of its way to try and push the character out of the franchise, but was also beholden to follow-up on the incredibly stupid "reveal" from the end of The Crimes of Grindlewald. All of these make the film feel like a decent movie, and a film far superior to the other films in the Fantastic Beasts series, but not a smash like the Harry Potter films.

I will say that it did make me feel like a fresh slate has been presented for the next two films in the series. With any luck, a consistent vision (and perhaps greater focus to keep "She Who Must Not Be Named" on a tighter fucking leash) might very well enable the rest of series to truly present the Great Wizarding War with the degree of ambience that it deserves, even if we must witness that war from the strange perspective of a magizoologist that would fit better in an Indiana Jones-style adventure or a riff on a James Bond-spy thriller.

But that is a discussion for a future editorial.

  • 9/10
  • 10/10
  • 7/10
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.25/10

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