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I think it is fair to say that the Fantastic Beasts series is no Harry Potter, and this latest instalment is the greyest, dullest and most missable and confused entry in The Wizarding World to date. Off the back of the polarising The Crimes of Grindelwald and amidst numerous cast and crew controversies, this franchise needed a huge spell with The Secrets of Dumbledore, instead what we have is a film that signifies a saga limping to the end, as it forgets all it was and has no idea what it wants to be next.
The film catches up with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he is now very much part of the fight against the oncoming threat posed by the dastardly and powerful Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, who replaces Johnny Depp in the same unspoken way Michael Gambon replaced the late Richard Harris). However, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) is still bound by a past promise, but as Grindelwald’s message and reach grows, he must help form a team that will stop his former lover (c’mon, it’s hardly a spoiler at this point). But along the way, secrets are revealed that change everyone’s perceptions.
I’m at a bit of a loss with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Back when this prequel series began in 2016, screenwriter J. K. Rowling envisioned a five-film series and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was a charming start but as we have progressed, the story has grown more and more cloudy, and five films seems almost impossible at this point. The Secrets of Dumbledore for sure has imagination in its brilliantly designed creatures, as well as some good performances but feels completely directionless at times, as director David Yates’ hands feel tied, much like Dumbledore’s, to previous promises made.
Opening with an animal slaughter, things don’t really get more enjoyable from thereon in Rowling and Steve Kloves’ confused screenplay, that comes alive best when the actual Fantastic Beasts are allowed screen time. The rest is a puzzling swirl of unsatisfying sub-plots, half-drawn characters and ideas that either go nowhere or don’t go far enough. The political message never strikes as hard as it should and the only real point of note is Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship, which is not allowed enough space to develop thanks to all the other narrative clutter.
We are at a point where things feel so far removed from where they began, and the series feels to have no destination, with each passing instalment feeling made up on the fly. I felt oddly distant to it, and ultimately this feels as though we have reached a point where we can end it if it doesn’t make money, but if it does we’ll come up with something. It lacks that magical and confident storytelling touch. I’m not really sure what we’re doing here anymore.
Moments of beauty in George Richmond’s cinematography peak, often in some stunning creature sequences but the settings that in the past have been so impressive, here feel sometimes drab or bland, thanks to strange stylistic CG-heavy choices and some pretty joyless stretches. This also means that James Newton Howard’s score can likewise suffer, and not bloom as it has in previous offerings, although it’s still strong work.
The cast ought to be applauded however, as they are all very into what they are doing. Law is fantastic and appealing as a younger Dumbledore, while Mikkelsen makes for a nasty and cult-like Grindelwald. While the utterly charming Dan Fogler remains the franchise’s MVP as Jacob, Jessica Williams makes a great first impression as Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks and Callum Turner gets far more to work with as Theseus Scamander. That said, in Newt’s case, he is less lucky, as Redmayne is far outshone here by his Beasts Teddy the Niffler and Pickett the Bowtruckle, who have better character moments, largely down to how this film fractures Newt’s developing romance with Katherine Waterston’s Tina (who is barely in the film at all). While other supporting character’s are so slight you practically forget their stories entirely (William Nadylam’s Yusuf Kama) or said stories/mythologies are now that all over the shop you give up on them (Ezra Miller’s “Credence”).
If the disappointing box office is anything to go by, this might be the last in the Fantastic Beasts series, and it leaves you accessing how we got here, and there are many reasons but fundamentally it is down to the series abandoning the very thing its first film thrived on…the fantastical beasts themselves and the magical entertainment alongside them. This film is precisely the film that everyone fiercely accused (and completely wrongly might I add) George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels of being. A collection of ideas, with little in way of a story to bind them or cinema magic to lift them to their full potential. A real pity.
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