Arts movie review

New ‘Fantastic Beasts’ better than its predecessor but suffers from predictability

There are no secrets in the movie unless you are referring to open secrets

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Directed by David Yates
Screenplay by J. K. Rowling and Steve Kloves
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, and Mads Mikkelsen
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

“Things that seem unimaginable today will seem inevitable tomorrow if we don't stop him,” warns Dumbledore (Jude Law). This line sets the tone for the third installment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, a stunning sequel about nefarious wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s (Mads Mikkelsen) scheme to take over the Wizarding World and wage a war against Muggles.

The movie opens in a café where a younger Dumbledore and Grindelwald meet to discuss the choices they have each made in their lives. This is the first time in the Harry Potter franchise that Dumbledore confesses his love for Grindelwald. While this scene lasts only for a few minutes, it underscores how Dumbledore’s subsequent conflict against Grindelwald inflicts great pain on Dumbledore himself.  

In the present (early 1930s), magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) helps a Qilin, a magical creature with precognitive abilities, give birth. Before he can fully admire the baby Qilin, Grindelwald’s associates, led by Credence, also known as Aurelius Dumbledore (Ezra Miller), capture the baby Qilin for Grindelwald, who harnesses the precognitive abilities of the Qilin to carry out his plans for world domination. However, unbeknownst to Grindelwald and his associates, the Qilin has a twin, which is rescued by Scamander. The remainder of the movie revolves around how Dumbledore, aided by Scamander, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and some friends, thwarts Grindelwald’s evil schemes with the help of the forgotten twin Qilin.

While the first two movies in the Fantastic Beasts franchise focus on the diversity of magical creatures in the world, this installment digresses from that theme. Instead, The Secrets of Dumbledore centers wizards resorting to electoral fraud. (Yes, Grindelwald leaves no stone unturned when it comes to plotting world domination!) We are transported to the German Ministry of Magic in the early 1930s and witness a surge in support for Grindelwald. The parallels between Grindelwald and Hitler are not surprising, given the political climate of the Muggle world around that time in Berlin. 

This movie is brimming with action sequences, and the visual effects are breathtaking, whether in duels between wizards and witches, the grandiosity of the German Ministry of Magic, a wizard prison, or magical creatures soaring through battles. While the question of whether Dumbledore will be successful in thwarting Grindelwald’s attempt to become the leader of the Wizarding World is very engaging, some of the film’s sequences and conversations feel too long and act as filler. While the movie promises a satisfying climax, unfortunately it’s too predictable by the time it arrives. 

For a movie based on a J.K. Rowling screenplay, I expected to hear dialogue that would live up to the standards set by the Harry Potter saga, such as Sirius Black’s conversation with Harry — “We’ve all got both light and darkness inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” — or Dumbledore’s encouraging words at the welcome dinner — “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” After all, according to Rowling, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” However, the audience is only rewarded with recycled quotes from the Harry Potter franchise such as, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy,” and, of course, the most famous one-liner: “Always.” 

Redmayne brings Scamander to life by portraying a variety of emotions in an engaging fashion, so we laugh when Scamander laughs and are confused when he is. Law and Fogler get to explore different shades of their characters, which we have not seen in prior movies of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Law showcases his conflicting feelings of love and pain flawlessly, while Fogler explores the much quieter and angrier side of Kowalski. Mads Mikkelsen is given the most challenging job playing Grindelwald. Johnny Depp (who played Grindelwald in the first two films of the franchise) gave audiences an unforgettable vision of the character, requiring Mikkelsen to forge his own legacy in the franchise. Indeed, Mikkelsen played his part to perfection and portrayed Grindelwald so tangibly that any memory of Depp’s Grindelwald was quickly dispelled. Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald is more serious and fearsome than Depp’s thanks to his ice-cold demeanor, especially when he commands his associates or gauges whether he can trust a stranger who wants to be his follower.

While Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore does not surpass any of the movies from the Harry Potter franchise, it delivers a more focused plot and a reasonable climax that leads well into the next films compared to its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Although slow and predictable, the movie is sure to reconjure memories of Hogwarts, especially once John Willam’s Harry Potter theme plays.