** out of ****
(for some fantasy action / violence)
Released: April 15, 2022
Runtime: 142 minutes
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, William Nadylam, Jessica Williams, Victoria Yeates, Callum Turner
The first two films in the Fantastic Beasts prequel series (Where to Find Them and The Crimes of Gindelwald) were entertaining enough for what they were, but both lacked the addictive mythos and character appeal of the original Harry Potter saga that compelled numerous revisits, endless speculation and deconstruction, and worldwide fandom.
The Secrets of Dumbledore, the third Beasts chapter, falls in line with those same middling results, which ultimately makes it worse. That’s especially true given how the previous film, The Crimes of Grindelwald (which focused on the rise of pre-Voldermort villain Gellert Grindelwald), teased some serious potential to come.
Well, we’re here now, and the payoff falls flat.
The Secrets of Dumbledore, like the broader Fantastic Beasts franchise, is a blockbuster extravaganza constantly grasping at straws, whether for story, spectacle, or meaning, or even some fundamental raison d’être other than a calculated cash grab.
The result is an awkward compromise of what’s come before: a batch of new characters that nobody has deep affection for, mixed with consequential ones that fans want to see more of. Unfortunately, the former still gets more screen time than the latter as even the titular Dumbledore is relegated to a supporting player.
In fact, there is no real center here, which is why the whole doesn’t hold.
Instead, The Secrets of Dumbledore just flails along as another feature length excursion into Wizarding World filler. Even the “secrets,” such as they are, are peripheral rather than central, and basically boil down to one: the origins of the sinister Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and the revelation that he’s an estranged member of the Dumbledore family.
That secret, having already been spilled at the end of the previous movie, is only clarified here and, even then, not until the film’s second half within a stand-alone scene of exposition.
The broader narrative is a lot of Sturm und Drang about Grindelwald’s fascist ascent within the wizarding politick, with Fantastic Beasts hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) leading a team assembled by middle-aged Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) commissioned to defeat Grindelwald’s ambitions.
That sounds straightforward but the nuts-and-bolts of the adventure are piecemeal, a random assortment of tasks, meetings and missions that lack strong connective tissue or dramatic momentum, not to mention deeper, richer emotional stakes. As far as the title goes, it’s more marketing hook than accurate descriptor; a way to get butts in seats but one that falls short on the implied promise.
And it’s a real shame, too, as the movie’s two strongest assets are Jude Law and (replacing Johnny Depp) Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald. Warner Bros. may have replaced Depp for the wrong reasons (i.e. canceling him before all the facts of his legal domestic dispute with ex-wife Amber Heard came out), but artistically Mads is the right re-casting choice.
Compared to Depp’s platinum-blond posturing, Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald is a more serious, intelligent, and formidable threat. He’s actually credible, and Law contrasts that with charisma, wisdom and regret. Except for Callum Turner, who plays Newt’s suave, controlled brother Theseus in a way that could suggest a new, invigorating take on James Bond, everything else is just a distraction spinning its wheels.
Director David Yates — who has directed 7 straight Potter films now (from The Order of the Phoenix to the three Beasts so far) — hasn’t brought anything fresh to the material in quite a while now. Here, his work is dutiful at best but, more accurately, it coasts on soulless autopilot.
In the end, by not ditching the Fantastic Beasts framework completely to go all-in on Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald, The Secrets of Dumbledore remains a tedious half-measure – just like the prequel franchise itself.