Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)
Director: David Yates
Writers: J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, and Mads Mikkelsen
Review: Man, remember Harry Potter? Like, early 2010s Harry Potter? Good times. The movies had just wrapped up, putting a cap on the entire phenomenon. They were all generally well-received. There were no half-assed sequels or drawn-out prequels. It was just a fun, simple, (mostly) unproblematic (or at least to our dumb child brains), high-quality, fantasy franchise that had a generation wrapped around its fingers for decades. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Bring in the Fantastic Beasts series. While the first one was… fine. The second quickly derailed everything. It was overly complicated, canon breaking, and, honestly, pretty boring. Not to mention the movie was just bad. But that was nothing compared to the offscreen drama that’s followed since. First of all, The Crimes of Grindelwald did not make a lot of money. Second, they recast Johnny Depp after allegations of him were (falesly?) brought to light. Then, people were absolutely outraged with J.K. Rowling after she tweeted some very transphobic things and many swore to never support the franchise again, as she doubled down on those beliefs. And, now, there are the multiple arrests of Ezra Miller to contend with. Long story short, it’s been a mess. So, after all of that, I feel even more responsibility on my shoulders with this review. Because, is it all worth it? Is Fantastic Beasts 3 better? Does it thrive beyond the offscreen drama? Should I sacrifice my values to see this? Well, the answer, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), is that The Secrets of Dumbledore is just kind meh.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a massive improvement over the second installment. In fact, this almost serves as an entire reboot of the series. Half of the forgettable and/or cringeworthy characters are straight up not in this one. Zoe Kravitz is gone. For all intents and purposes, Newt’s love interest is gone. And, perhaps best of all, Nagini is nowhere in sight. The main characters we are left with, conversely, are all very pleasant and worth rooting for. The plot has also been dramatically simplified. The convoluted backstories and boring exposition, which works in book form but not really in movies, are also completely absent. It’s now pretty much back to good wizards fight bad wizards. And, speaking of bad wizards, Mads Mikkelsen is infinitely better than Johnny Depp for the part of Grindelwald. Say what you will about Depp’s 2010s performances, but every choice he made felt ridiculously out of place in the Harry Potter universe. Mikkelsen, meanwhile, fits like a glove. He did a terrific job bringing both the sneering, evil side and the heartbroken, romantic angle to Grindelwald. Oh, by the way, they actually delved into his romance with Dumbledore. You know, a huge part of the story that the others were willing to just gloss over. It’s not super deep here, but it was nice to see it at least be a major-ish plot point. It added personal stakes too, which were severely lacking in the last entry.
I would still definitely say that the Wizarding World franchise is far from its hey day though. Despite some much needed improvements, it’s still mostly a sparkless exercise. I never once felt the magic and intrigue that I did with the Harry Potter series. The characters aren’t as charming. The plot just feels meandering. And, there’s nothing heartwarming or meaningful about anything that’s happening on screen. Those original movies feel like they were something special. This movie feels like it exists out of obligation. Almost like no one really wants to keep making these. That’s especially obvious in the last act, where they kinda sorta wrap everything up in a nice bow. It feels as if they’re prepared for this to be the last one. And, while I don’t want to sit through another entry, this would be a deeply unsatisfying ending. The story definitely isn’t done being told, but they just threw in what essentially feels like an epilogue just in case. It leaves me in this in-between scenario where I want to see what happens next without ever wanting to see this another Fantastic Beasts movie. I’ve never been in a scenario like this and it’s maddening.
Honestly, I would write up more, but, honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this movie. It’s very mediocre. Was it a vast improvement on the second? Yes. However, I’m definitely not sold on this franchise as a whole. It feels like The Hobbit movies but without the talent of Peter Jackson. Even as a Potter-fan, I felt bored. And, I never once have felt bored with the originals. And, I’ve read/watched the Harry Potter series over and over and over and I find something new to love and appreciate every time. Fantastic Beasts is a whole different story though. Throw in the problematic real world issues and I think it’s definitely time to pull the plug. But, the real question is: would I recommend this? If you’re a Potterhead who suffered through the second movie and are still willing to support J.K. Rowling, sure. I still don’t think you’ll like it very much, but it’s worth watching (on HBO Max in a few months) for the minor course corrections alone. But, if you haven’t watched the second one or don’t like supporting Rowling, there’s no reason to bend here. It’s just not worth it. If you really want to know what happens here, read the Harry Potter wiki pages for Dumbledore and Grindelwald. I’m sure you’ll get roughly the same enjoyment out of it. Because, honestly, screw JK Rowling.
TL;DR: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement on the previous entry, but still not necessary viewing for even the most hardcore Potter fan, especially considering the real world drama surrounding it.
Score: 5/10 (Meh.)