By Reed Ripley
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
- Directed by: David Yates
- Fantasy/Adventure | PG-13 | 2 hr 23 min
Back in 2016, Fantastic Beasts started off as a fun, whimsical adaptation of a fictional guidebook to magical creatures written by J. K. Rowling (under the pseudonym Newt Scamander). It was fun, it was light, and most people had a good time.
As time stretched farther from that initial adaptation, its shine continued to wear off, and the Potterverse spinoff franchise’s tenuous connection to its source material became glaring. It’s reached a tipping point with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
What started as a contained story about magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his kind-hearted attempt to help Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) with a particularly nasty magical ailment is now a full-blown epic featuring the legendary conflict between Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelson).
On paper, the Dumbledore/Grindelwald clash was a no-brainer of a story to tell. It played an increasingly important role as the original series neared its conclusion, and the relationship between the two famous wizards as young lovers turned bitter rivals had plenty of storytelling potential.
But in execution, it gets completely lost amidst plot potpourri, which goes back to the baffling decision to force the Dumbledore narrative into a Fantastic Beasts-shaped hole. Redmayne’s Scamander is a perfectly delightful character on its own, but propping him and his crew up as equals next to Dumbledore, one of the most important literary characters of the past 30 years, is a fool’s errand.
It leads to a film that reeks of desperation. Not since the unfortunate Hobbit trilogy has a piece of beloved intellectual property been so squeezed for a buck. It’s most distressing in moments of the film that overtly latch onto the nostalgia. Most notably, about halfway through, there’s a sweeping overhead shot of Hogwarts as a Harry doppelganger flies across the screen on his broom, all while “Hedwig’s Theme” swells to its earnest crescendo. A tune that normally evokes such warmth quickly curdles into something sickly when used in such unabashedly manipulative fashion.
Harry Potter became such a sensation because it managed to take childlike wonder, distill it down to its purest form, and inject it straight into the veins of an entire generation of young readers. Surprise surprise, it’s hard to recapture that sense of wonder without actual children populating the story. Unlike Harry and company, Scamander and friends are all adults, and it’s hard to care about those adults when so much of the story prioritizes filling out the Dumbledore family’s wiki page.
To be fair, there are still fleeting moments of spectacle and quirkiness that work. Sure enough, the film’s many beasts are fantastic, even if they exist with varyingly solid connections to what their human counterparts are up to. Also, one of the Fantastic Beasts franchise’s only consistently redeeming qualities is its kinetic depiction of the magic itself, and Secrets of Dumbledore is no exception. Swirling balls of light fly off wands like blaster bolts, and witches and wizards engage their physical and metaphysical surroundings with equal flair and aplomb.
But those brief moments of visual grandeur are hardly enough to distract from a convoluted story, a decided lack of heart, and a creator who has clearly run out of ideas (worthwhile ones, at least). At this point, the entire Fantastic Beasts experience is a lesson that some stories are better left untold. Or perhaps told by someone else.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore opens everywhere on April 15. You can find more review from local movie critic Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com
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