“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is finally here, and it’s more of a trudge than an event. Even if the long-awaited third edition of J.K. Rowling‘s Wizarding World sub-franchise is less congested with distracting detail than its immediate before, the two-hour-plus picture nevertheless seems like an endurance test.
The behind-the-scenes intrigue building up to the film’s April 15 theatrical debut is causing some concern. In the second film, Johnny Depp, who played the franchise’s villain Gellert Grindelwald, was accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Ezra Miller, who plays Credence Barebone, has had his own issues, including choking a fan outside a club and, most recently, attacking people in a bar in Hawaii and allegedly breaking into a random couple’s hotel room. Then there’s Rowling, the series creator, who has spent the previous two years adamantly reiterating her anti-trans stance.
When viewing The Secrets of Dumbledore, which takes its key narrative lines from current-day political problems, it’s difficult not to think of these real-world concerns. While the film’s moral problems remain the same, Rowling, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Kloves, utilizes a forthcoming Wizarding World election to raise the stakes of the fight. To be good, as Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) suggests in the film, is to fight for the preservation of democracy, to “do what is right, not what is easy.” Being bad entails doing the polar opposite.
The Secrets of Dumbledore begins with a frigid confrontation between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, the avatars of this moral debate (now represented by Mads Mikkelsen). They meet at a chilly, almost palatial café, surrounded by seemingly unconcerned non-magic patrons. The two angry and devastated wizards reminisce over tea about their previous betrayals. Dumbledore is put in a difficult position by Grindelwald’s determination to rule the wizarding world and provoke a war with non-magic people. The future Hogwarts headmaster must defeat his rival and former lover, but a long-ago contract prohibits them from battling directly.
That’s where the series’ hesitant magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), comes in. Newt is conscripted by Dumbledore to assist him in assembling a force to battle Grindelwald. Newt’s helper Bunty (Victoria Yeates), his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), his buddy and Muggle baker Jacob (Dan Fogler), Leta Lestrange’s brother Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), and Charms professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks make up the ragged crew (Jessica Williams).
They design a multi-part strategy with the purpose of perplexing Grindelwald, who has the ability to look into the future. Dumbledore feels that if the party can overcome the cunning wizard, they would be able to save the world. The strategy to deceive necessitates the suspicious team, led by a hesitant Newt, putting their faith in one another. A comparable level of confidence is demanded of spectators, who must trust that after two long chapters, this third film will restore faith in a shaky series.
Secrets of Dumbledore, in comparison to the other two films, has more vibe of a Harry Potter film than a Fantastic Beasts picture. While a few magical animals appear in the film — one is even crucial to Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s schemes – they are far from the focus. This chapter focuses on Dumbledore, who is a more intriguing character than the book’ ostensible hero, Newt Scamander. This adjustment helps to focus the film’s plot, but it doesn’t help those of us attempting to figure out what the series’ aim is.
Secrets of Dumbledore, on the other hand, is not without its charms. To recreate the rich, textured Wizarding World, director David Yates (who helmed four Potter films and the entire Fantastic Beasts franchise thus far) returns with a formidable crew that includes editor Mark Day, director of photography George Richmond, costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designers Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont, and composer James Newton Howard. The slowed-down fight sequences shot from a variety of perspectives, enhance suspense and showcase the franchise’s technological brilliance. The magical animals are meticulously crafted, and the world within Newt’s suitcase continues to dazzle.
Newt and his pals learn about Grindelwald’s power and the allure of his vision as they travel around the Wizarding World, from New York to Berlin to Bhutan. (In the last film, his promise that wizards will be allowed to live and love freely under his dominion drove Jacob’s love, Queenie, played by Alison Sudol, to the dark side.)
Grindelwald transforms into a fascist figure as he plans a campaign to become the president of the International Confederation of Wizards. His restrictive views and ugly speech touch and embolden a disillusioned mass. However, the script by Rowling and Kloves, which just touches the surface of this metaphor, is impossible to accept. Given Rowling‘s recent public pronouncements, a viewer sensitive to the narrative’s likeness to actual life would find it difficult to get past the irony of a writer like Rowling espousing lessons about humanity, love, and radical acceptance.
If Secrets of Dumbledore has a purpose, it’s probably to show how people cope with disillusionment. When the Wizarding World’s production is embroiled in controversy and its founder regularly espouses dangerously shortsighted beliefs, it’s tough to remain enthralled. This unavoidably affects how viewers see the work, indicating, at least to this reviewer, how fascinated these films are with binary oppositions — good and evil, poor and rich, love and hate, light and dark. However, life, like narrative, is considerably more difficult, and the brand would be good to learn from this.