Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, William Nadylam, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Mads Mikkelsen
Run Time: 142 mins
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third instalment in the spin-off series to the Harry Potter films. The series has drawn a fair amount of controversy, firstly with J.K. Rowling’s controversial comments on the transgender community losing her a legion of fans following the release of the The Crimes of Grindelwald. Then, there is Johnny Depp who plays the lead villain, Gellert Grindelwald, his career in limbo during his high-profile feud with Amber Heard. For The Secrets of Dumbledore, he was controversially asked to step down from the series and is instead replaced by Mads Mikkelsen. Ezra Miller, who plays Credence, has also been in trouble for his public conduct, which also doesn’t grant the film any favours.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is that The Secrets of Dumbledore is riding off the back of The Crimes of Grindelwald, the first in the entire Wizarding World canon to garner a mixed-to-negative reception. Whilst I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, I was also disappointed by The Crimes of Grindelwald, a film that makes some strange decisions, chooses to bewilderingly retcon prior narrative events and is far too busy concerned with setting up future films than being entertaining itself.
This third entry sees the younger Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasking series lead Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his allies in their quest to thwart Grindelwald’s rapid ascent, who seeks to be elected as the Supreme Mugwump to govern over the wizarding world to unleash his reign of terror. Can The Secrets of Dumbledore function as a course-correction for the series?
The answer is mostly a resounding yes as Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore learns some important lessons from the second film’s shortcomings. Returning director David Yates deftly melds both Grindelwald’s political quest and Newt’s storyline and unlike the second film which sidelined the titular fantastic beasts, Newt’s briefcase of magical creatures play an important part in the narrative.
David Yates is a fine director and as well as this series, he was responsible for the final four Harry Potter films and also the underrated The Legend of Tarzan. He excels as a visual voice and always strikes a poetic tone but he sadly seemed to be on autopilot for large sections of The Crimes of Grindelwald. There are some arresting visuals here and the film is directed with confidence.
There are some noteworthy performances, with Jude Law the standout in an expanded role as Dumbledore, who retains Michael Gambon’s twinkly personality and Irish lilt. Redmayne carries the film well again and Callum Turner as Newt’s Auror brother, Theseus makes more of an impression in an expanded role, as he was quite wooden last time round.
Newcomer Mads Mikkelsen is excellent as Grindelwald but wisely avoids channeling Johnny Depp’s equally strong performance. Mikkelsen is a more straight-faced but solemn presence and the idea that his character and Law’s Dumbledore had a romantic relationship is believable. Richard Coyle is also new to the franchise as Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth, and he’s also great and I can very easily see how the character grows up to be his older, gruff self as played by Ciaran Hinds in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Cinematographer George Richmond replaces Philippe Rousselot for this third installment and he conjures a greyer aesthetic to suit the world that is on the brink of an all-out war, foregoing Rousselot’s more romantic elements.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a thoroughly entertaining ride that justifies the existence of this series. I’m not sure if it’s quite as good as the first instalment but it’s certainly pretty close. Sadly, the film has attracted mixed-to-positive reviews and with the many controversies looming over, I really hope it’s not the end for the series. I’d love to see how the story develops, as it slowly heads to the exciting historical wizarding match between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Only time (and the box office) will determine the series future.