Beast on a leash: ‘SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE’ continues to set the scene without being its own thing

0

Preston Barta // Featues Editor

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE

Rated PG-13, 142 minutes. 
Opens Friday in theaters nationwide.

About halfway through Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, there’s an exchange between Judd Law’s Albus Dumbledore and Callum Turner’s Theseus Scamander that perfectly sums up the movie. In the scene, Theseus says, “So, we’re back to where we started?” To which, Dumbledore replies, “Yeah. Only it’s worse.”

The third installment of the Fantastic Beasts series had so much promise. Harry Potter franchise screenwriter Steve Kloves entered to co-write the screenplay alongside author J.K. Rowling (who penned the first two movies on her own to varying degrees of forgettable). Hot off his killer dance moves in Another Round, Mads Mikkelsen took over the role as nefarious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald from Johnny Depp. And the trailer made it look like it would be recapturing a little more of that Potter spirit by returning some of the action to Hogwarts. However, despite a hilarious scene with some red crab-like creatures and an always terrific Dan Fogler, The Secrets of Dumbledore keeps the wheels on the Knight Bus spinning round and round. It takes us nowhere new or exciting and is frustratingly dull, convoluted and without magic. 

In Secrets of Dumbledore, Grindelwald is plotting to seize control of the wizarding world while waging war with the muggles (non-magic folk) like a classic X-Men villain. To stop Grindelwald, Dumbledore enlists the help of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a few other wizards (Turner, Jessica Williams, Victoria Yeates and William Nadylam) and one muggle (Fogler). However, while Dumbledore is eager to stay on the sidelines, his secrets inevitably draw him into battle. 

Nailing down the issues within The Secrets of Dumbledore is about as complex as the material itself. On the one hand, as a Potter fan, you’re wanting to forgive its shortcomings because you want this new series to succeed. There will be an amusing scene and a lot of dry exposition and meaningless action. Taking a page out of the Star Wars prequels, this is a hugely political narrative. It’s difficult to shake the obvious comments it seems to make about a recent administration and the real world. But it never does anything interesting with it (outside of the basic good vs. evil plot) to compel you enough to want to see where it goes, and it barely goes anywhere.

Like The Crimes of Grindelwald, this is another filler movie that doesn’t have a beginning, middle, or end of its own. Its sole purpose is to further stir the cauldron for what’s to come. Experiencing this is like watching the third installment of a five-part movie just about The Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s tiresome. The only aspect worth a damn is Fogler, who continues to be the shining star of the new series. He keeps you smiling between the yawns and makes many great tongue-in-cheek jokes that bring a sampling of refreshing energy. Otherwise, this is depressingly one-note.

This could have been an extraordinarily intense and beautiful love story between Dumbledore and Grindelwald and Credence (Ezra Miller) and his true family (to run in parallel). But nothing is laid down well enough to allow us to care about these characters and their supposed relationships. It moves like molasses and involves silly plot devices instead, like a magical deer that can determine the good in people. The fact that so much depends on this deer feels like a last-minute write-in, so the Fantastic Beasts title still makes sense.

For families who are still curious, be warned that it is probably one of the darker movies in the wizarding world. It opens on an unnecessarily mean note that could have used other forms of microaggressions to paint its menace, and there’s some imagery that’s a little too much for a family affair. Granted, it’s PG-13, so go figure, but the crab scene may involve a juicy corpse or two to shield the younglings from. 

Grade: C-

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.