The Fantastic Beasts movies have been a bumpy ride so far. Erratic direction, heavy-handed plot and exposition dumps remain some of the major problems that are currently plagued in this franchise. And those are just two entries (Where to Find Them and The Crimes of Grindelwald) out of a planned five-movie arc. Now the third one — Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore — is finally out after a longer-than-usual four years of a wait. I’m still hoping for a better improvement this time around, particularly how underwhelming the second one turned out to be.
Well, the good news is, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is indeed an improvement over the lacklustre Crimes of Grindelwald, even though some of the usual flaws remain present (more on this later). The film begins promisingly with a verbal encounter between Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp who was forced to quit the role after losing a libel suit against The Sun, the popular British tabloid claiming he was a “wife beater”. Depp was already in hot water at the time following his highly-publicised case of alleged domestic abuse made by his former wife, Amber Heard).
Dumbledore is trying his best to stop him as Grindelwald plans a wizarding world of large-scale domination and war against the Muggles (non-magic people). But he couldn’t physically hurt Grindelwald due to the blood pact they have made decades ago.
So, in order to thwart his plan, Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to assemble a team consisting of Newt’s best friend and baker Jacob (Dan Fogler), his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (Jessica Williams), pure-blood French-African wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates). Their respective missions? Confuse Grindelwald since he has the ability to see the future if they plan to directly attack him.
Apart from the aforementioned opening scene, franchise director David Yates manages to pull off a few noteworthy individual moments. The CGI-heavy wizarding duel between Dumbledore and Credence (Ezra Miller) in the middle of the street is worth mentioning here, showcasing both Yates’ visual and staging prowess. The same also goes for the brief but entertaining high noon-like showdown moment between Theseus and Lally against the opposing wizards during the climactic finale, reminding me of an old Western movie. But instead of drawing their six-shooters, they fight against each other using magic wands.
Elsewhere, I enjoy the whole stretch of an otherwise needless subplot involving Newt’s rescue mission to save his kidnapped brother, which combines an effective mix of comedy (the hilarious crab-like dance) and action (the gigantic scorpion-like beast emerging from a pit).
The film also benefits from James Newton Howard’s rousing score and some of the fascinating magical creatures, notably the introduction of the baby deer-like Qilin, which serves as a pivotal character in the storyline. Then, there’s Mads Mikkelsen, whose sly performance as Grindelwald turns out to be a better replacement than the fan-favourite Johnny Depp. But Mikkelsen isn’t the only scene-stealer here as Jude Law delivers equally solid support as the younger Dumbledore and so does Jessica Williams in her sassy turn as Lally. Dan Fogler, in the meantime, provides a worthy comic relief as Jacob.
Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander has a few moments here (the aforementioned rescue mission comes to mind) but it remains a pity he’s being sidelined most of the time in favour of some other characters to shine instead. Ezra Miller reprised his role as Credence and I figure he would be a significant one in this third instalment, especially after the second film’s cliffhanger ending-like reveal of his character’s true identity. But strangely enough, it turns out to be all smokes and mirrors as the film doesn’t seem to be interested to delve deeper into his character other than restricting him as a mere pawn for Grindelwald.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore adds Harry Potter vet Steve Kloves to co-write the screenplay alongside J.K. Rowling and it helps, albeit to a certain extent. The film has some interesting stakes (Dumbledore’s elaborate game of deception, Grindelwald’s dirty-politic approach to win an upcoming election to become the new leader of the Wizarding World) and of course, globetrotting adventures that spice up the screenplay.
But at a 143-minute length, making this the longest Fantastic Beasts movie ever seen so far, it’s impossible to ignore some of the major flaws here. For instance, the film does address the titular secrets involving Dumbledore but sadly only on a surface-level storytelling approach. Let’s just say once the secrets are out, I was left wondering “is that the best they can come up with?“. The thing is, the film is too busy heading in multiple directions, piling up with one subplot after another. If only the film spends more considerable time focusing on Dumbledore’s secrets rather than just presenting them in a superficial manner, we might be getting an above-average third instalment.