The Fantastic Beasts franchise continues with its third entry after the shocking misfire that was The Crimes of Grindelwald. In trying to inject more of that Wizarding World magic, this story sees Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlist a crack team of individuals to try stop Grindelwald and his legion of followers from gaining more political power.
The good thing about Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is that it seems to have rectified many of the issues I had with its predecessor, leading to an overall decently enjoyable film. Rather than trying to cram in too many weaving, convoluted narratives, this sequel keeps things mostly simple – having a clear goal from beginning to end and not too many side arcs that drift off in different directions. This is a very welcome change because it produces a story that’s at the very least intriguing and easy to follow. Although, where it’s a good thing that the narrative is more streamlined, it seems to be lacking the building sense of tension and danger that the story would call for.
For a narrative that introduces so many high stakes really early on, there’s a disappointing lack of urgency throughout the entire film. It presents itself as something epic, like there’s this grand event that needs to be stopped – but rather than building towards a climax, it all moves at a steady and consistent pace that fails to create any sense of tension or worry as it reaches the end. As a result, the climax is unfulfilling and anticlimactic. The finale is posed as this grand event, but ends up feeling like a standard plot point that just so happens to occur at the end of the film. Had this ending delivered something big, it could have elevated the rest of the film – but since it wasn’t, it just results in a film that’s lacking any memorable details. The Secrets of Dumbledore feels like what The Order of the Phoenix was to the Harry Potter franchise – a narrative that’s more politically-focused and not all that thrilling and engaging on the whole.
All that being said, I still enjoyed the film a decent amount. The slower narrative and lack of tension is definitely disappointing, but I still found myself intrigued to see where things would go because I actually cared about some of the characters. There’s something about the quirkiness of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) that makes him an effective lead – a somewhat fascinating character that is easy for you to root for. My only issue with his character in this film is that there doesn’t seem to be much growth on his part. He’s integral to this narrative, but I feel like so much development is given to Dumbledore, and even Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), that there’s not much time left for Newt. As should be clear from the title, much of this story is focused on exploring Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship, so much so that I’d call this a Dumbledore prequel more than a Fantastic Beasts sequel – which isn’t necessarily a complaint, just more of an observation.
All controversy aside, this film sees the inclusion of Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Grindelwald, taking over from Johnny Depp. I personally enjoyed Depp’s performance as Grindelwald in the second film, though what Mikkelsen brings to the role here is different and far superior. The way Mikkelsen carries the role makes Grindelwald seem very menacing and methodical in the way he executes his plans. It’s a subdued performance, playing into the more calculated nature of how the character behaves, and actually makes for a very compelling villain. I feel like given a stronger narrative, Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald could have thrived even more. I must say I enjoyed Jude Law’s Dumbledore. It’s a different take on Dumbledore for sure, but one that I really enjoyed watching. He’s probably the most intriguing character in this film, and Jude Law’s performance is as strong as ever. I also have to give props to Dan Fogler, who delivers the vast majority of the comedy throughout the film, and does so really well. He hits almost every comedic beat with ease, delivering humour that fits within the scene, without impacting the more serious tone.
I have very mixed feelings about this Fantastic Beasts franchise as a whole. If you sit here comparing it to the Harry Potter franchise, it’s going to lose every battle. It doesn’t quite capture the same magic, wonder and awe that that series of films does, which isn’t necessarily a criticism. It’s focusing on an older cast, which is going to hit different with both kids and adults alike. Yes, it’s set within the same Wizarding World, has some familiar characters and visits some familiar Hogwarts locales, but it’s very much its own adventure. The next 2 films in the franchise aren’t guaranteed, though I’d like to see it all play out. Despite the average run so far, I feel like there’s some genuinely good storytelling coming that I’d like to see.
In the end, The Secrets of Dumbledore is a decently enjoyable ride that could have been much better had the third act been structured better and a little larger in scale. The disappointing climax doesn’t do much to enhance the journey to get there, instead making the entire film feel a little flat. The lack of urgency in the pacing is my biggest issue, though the intriguing character arcs and little hints of comedy make it a somewhat fun adventure. Much like the way director David Yates approached Order of the Phoenix, I feel like everything from the tone and pacing to the story itself is executed exactly as he intended – it just didn’t resonate with me. Fans of the franchise should be glad this is a step up from the previous film, and hope it’s a sign of better things to come.