After the second Fantastic Beasts film that was packed with somewhat odd revelations, the new franchise in Wizarding World seems to sizzle. The Secrets of Dumbledore is a better film than its predecessor and contains some cool moments, but it doesn’t reach the level of the first film and doesn’t come close to the Potter films at least in terms of story.
Grindelwald’s crimes ended in a big cliff. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) turns out to be not Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz)’s alleged dead brother, but the quiet younger brother of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Aberforth Dumbledore (Richard Coyle). Credence also still has the power of Obscurus within him and thus appears to be a key figure in the battle between Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). Grindelwald encouraged war between wizards and Muggles, as wizards had to live in secret because of them. He also recruits Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who wants to marry Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), but is not permitted by law.
We also learn that Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood promise in their youth not to hurt each other. And that’s a problem now that the latter is gaining popularity and becoming more and more radical. So Dumbledore once again enlists the team to help him break the blood oath: Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Theseus (Callum Turner), assistant Newt Bunty (Victoria Yeates), professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), Leta’s half-brother Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), and Jacob. His brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle, with a good imitation of the voice of Ciarán Hinds) is also reluctantly involved. They each got their own mission, with which they wanted to trick Grindelwald into thwarting it. But the wizarding world is at a tipping point…
Life imitates art
And that’s a good thing, because JK Rowling’s Wizarding World is limping too. The once beloved author has been making headlines lately with his hate speech about trans people. Sad and almost incomprehensible from a woman who makes so many lonely and misunderstood people feel right at home in the world she creates. And it’s ironic to say the least that this franchise is about heroes battling someone who sows hate. Because of this, many fans and even actors like to stick to the wizarding world and the values you find within it (see also the recent Harry Potter reunion) and prefer to have as little contact as possible with Rowling herself.
The studio also seems to realize that its contribution, both in the PR and creative fields, is no longer what it used to be. Rowling wrote the screenplay for The Crimes of Grindelwald alone, proving that screenwriting is a separate profession for a reason. The plot is all over the place, full of side stories, and sometimes goes against Potter film canon. The casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald was also controversial, both for his persona and acting choices. Warner Bros. see the storm coming and take action anyway.
With Dumbledore’s Secret, writer Steve Kloves (who also wrote the Potter films, except Order of the Phoenix) returns after 10 years. He helped Rowling with the screenplay, and you could tell right away. With Potter, he’s not shy about pushing his own preferences a bit and not blabbering too much about pots. We might also see that influence in the first scene.
Dumbledore tries to convince Grindelwald to drop his plans. He reminded Albus that he used to be behind it himself. The reason why in books you can read between the lines, but here it is immediately stated: Albus is in love with his best friend. Nice surprise that it became explicit. Even though Rowling had said in 2007 that this was the case, until now they had always only cycled. And with the addition of the iconic Mads Mikkelsen, the bond between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is instantly a hundred times more believable. Mikkelsen is a brilliant actor whose talent goes from charming to threatening in the blink of an eye. The charm and confidence he exudes permanently illustrates how radical leaders often convince people. And that’s how Albus Dumbledore used to be.
Kloves also features more of the fantastical beasts in Dumbledore’s Secret. In the second film they are nice distractions, but here they, and thus Newt’s lore again, are at the center. Qilin, a reptile horse, can see into the future and decide who will lead the International Witch Consultation Agency. And of course Grindelwald set his sights on that. Other mythical creatures too mprovide light plots and moments. As a result, the two main elements of this franchise are again more balanced.
The design department is once again going wild with animal designs and magic. There are a number of clever ‘battle scenes’ that make good use of the magic possibilities, with familiar magical items also returning. Loyal old production designer Stuart Craig also remains a plus. He got help for the set, which includes several familiar locations, this time from Neil Lamont, who heads up the art department at Potter. Plus, we made an altar for costume designer Colleen Atwood, who dressed up the cast and many, many extras beautifully. Especially the new jacket for the male protagonist is a feast for the eyes. This film also looks a little different. George Richmond’s new DOP (Eddie the Eagle, Rocketman) is a little more for earth tones.
But also a roadblock
Another big showdown from The Crimes of Grindelwald also has a turn here. Credence’s character isn’t quite, but his relationship with Dumbledores gives the story and some of the characters more depth. It could also be that the makers didn’t want to push actor Ezra Miller too much forward. He has also been discredited several times in recent years.
Jessica Williams is a great addition to the ensemble as a famous spellcaster, and Eddie Redmayne remains a soft yet sturdy anchor (with amazingly supple hips, you’ll know when you see them). And Fogler also continues to dazzle as a minority in the wizarding world and a public surrogate. Unfortunately, the Goldstein sisters are underutilized anymore. Alison Sudol hasn’t gone through much real evolution and you certainly don’t need to look for Katherine Waterston. He only appeared for a few minutes for no apparent reason. The actress got pregnant during the shoot, but a little more creativity around her absence wouldn’t go wrong.
Although there are improvements in the scenario, there are still doubts about this franchise plan. The speed of The Secrets of Dumbledore is sometimes too slow. Some story branches also have little or no added value. Towards the end you actually have a surprising bit of insight into where the penultimate film is going. Despite the good cast, Fantastic Beasts still lacks the panache and greater emotional impact to avoid comparisons to Harry Potter. But we still hope.