At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Fantasy/Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Mads Mikkelsen, William Nadylam, Victoria Yeates, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Richard Coyle, Oliver Masucci, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Dave Wong, Fiona Glascott, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Valerie Pachner, Maja Bloom, Paul Low-Hang, Ramona Kunze-Libnow, Matthias Brenner, Hebe Beardsall/Runtime: 142 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that it there is one element that the Fantastic Beasts has tragically been lacking it would ironically been the component known as magic. Indeed this prequel series to the world of Harry Potter has seemingly had a fairly rough go of things at trying to get the moviegoers to fall in love with this universe again. As a result, the world of these films is not as enchanting, the narrative has more than its fair share of issues, and the cast of characters are nowhere near as three-dimensional as they were in the Harry Potter franchise. And to think that this is all before you take into account Johnny Depp (who was the original actor playing this series’ Big Bad Gellert Grindelwald) having to leave the role due to being accused of abuse, franchise co-star Ezra Miller running into his own legal dilemmas literally a day before the world premiere of this installment, and series’ originator J.K. Rowling making transphobic statements that have ruffled more than a few feathers. Suffice it to say the road this franchise has been on is rockier than Rocky Road Ice Cream and then some. I mean I know the Harry Potter franchise had more than its fair amount of issues it had to wrinkle out, the Fantastic Beasts series has seemingly always had issues with trying to comprehend just how it can grow out the wizarding world in a manner that can keep audiences hooked much in the same vein as Harry and pals did during their eight film run. This brings us to the third slice of cinema in this planned five film franchise known as The Secrets of Dumbledore and honestly I must admit I am delightfully surprised with this installment. Indeed don’t get me wrong: The Secrets of Dumbledore might not be as fantastic as this franchise’s name wants it to be. At the same time however, this slice of cinema is perhaps the finest attempt this series has made at reacquiring the magic this world once had in waves. Thus there may be more than a fair amount of flaws to be found herein, but at the very least this slice of cinema does move the needle a little bit in the right direction and in so doing make for a halfway compelling case for why this particular story should be allowed to continue for two more installments.

The plot is as follows: Moving the action into the 1930s, this slice of cinema gets underway as we see that iconic wizard Albus Dumbledore is sitting all by himself at a restaurant waiting for his former companion (read that how you would like), one Gellert Grindelwald, to show up for….reasons. Once he does however, the two don’t really pull out their wands and start trying to destroy one another. Instead they choose to engage in the art of heated yet passionate conversation. Conversation that soon reveals that Grindelwald is seriously scheming to completely and utterly annihilate Muggles everywhere and become ruler of all….oh and something about Dumbledore needing to stay out of his way if he knows what’s good for him. You know the typical bad guy dialogue. Yet, despite not being able to do anything directly to Grindelwald due to a blood pact the pair made, we see that Dumbledore decides he isn’t going to take the pending decimation of the world as he knows it simply sitting down. Rather, he intends to do something about it. As such, we see that Dumbledore decide to bring together a group to help him take the fight to Grindelwald as much as he can. This prototype Dumbledore’s Army (what? You thought Harry Potter and his friends were the first? Pffft please!!) includes magizoologist Newt Scamander, Newt’s brother Theseus, an American witch named Eulalie Hicks, and Newt’s loyal Muggle friend Jacob Kowalski. Together, this rag tag team will attempt to do everything in their collective power to try and thwart Grindelwald and his army. Yet with things looking downright dire to say nothing of Grindelwald seemingly always being one step ahead then what chance does our group of heroes really have? That I will leave for you to discover dear reader…..

Now right off the bat it should be said that The Secrets of Dumbledore from the word go is saddled with quite the line that it must traverse upon. Indeed this is because this slice of cinema is meant to not only provide the movie goer with a world and several characters that they were already familiar with due to their time in the Harry Potter saga, but to also regale audiences with a narrative about a man, the creatures he has devoted his life to protecting/studying, and how crucial they manage to be this world. As a result therefore, we see that the film makes the most of both of these prerequisites by not only having Dumbledore and Hogwarts be given a much bigger part in the proceedings this go-around, but also by permitting Newt and his critters to be especially important to the story in this slice of cinema as well. An example of this can best be seen as we are introduced to Newt in this as he is in the midst of helping what we learn is called a Qilin as it is in the midst of birthing twins. Yet this animal we soon is very important to both Grindelwald’s dastardly machinations and also to other important events that occur in this slice of cinema since not only can this critter see the future, but it also can tell if a person is pure of heart. Yet more than anything else, perhaps the most brilliant contribution being made to this slice of cinema from behind the camera is the fact that this film, unlike its two predecessors, actually is in possession of a wonderful degree of forward momentum to help propel the narrative as well as keep things from stagnating.  Indeed looking back yes the first two entries in this series had their pros and cons, but one con that both had in common was that they were so full to the brim with exposition that their respective narratives often came to a tragic and quite screeching stop. Yet with the foundation being set up by both of the prior films, we see that this results in The Secrets of Dumbledore being able to do two things better than the others to date. The first is that it is in possession of a lot more freedom to not only go more in-depth into this world, but also into the cast of characters both human and critter in equal measure. The second is that by no longer having to explain every single minute detail to us, this slice of cinema is able to permit us to just relax with this cast of characters as they engage in a variety of actions from unearthing the past of one’s family to thinking back on lost loves with a tinge of wistful regret, and even give us some engaging and quite comedic action beats with the aid of some incredibly designed magical critters. Thus even though it wasn’t the hardest bar in the world to overcome, it should be said that among the entries in this franchise so far The Secrets of Dumbledore is without a doubt the most riveting, emotional, and also laugh-worthy entry in this franchise and in terms of comparing it to the prior two it is no contest as to which installment is the finest to date.

At the same time however, it should also be said that The Secrets of Dumbledore also has the intelligence to concentrate on its truly terrific cast to say nothing of the various relationships that the first two entries constructed. Indeed whereas the first two entries felt like they were just constantly setting things up in this department, in this slice of cinema we are finally able to get to the nitty gritty of things. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that the cast in this actually does fairly good work. This starts with series newcomer Mads Mikkelsen and honestly he is so good as Grindelwald that I find myself echoing some of my fellow reviewers in wondering why he wasn’t in the role from the start. Yes the man has some truly sinister machinations afoot and is the villain, but Mikkelsen brings such an affability to the part that I can completely comprehend why a lot of people would want to be a follower of this guy. The same incidentally should also be said in regards to this slice of cinema’s take on the character of Dumbledore as we see Jude Law once again prove to be a wonderful fit for the role even if he is a bit more wistful than his nefarious counterpart. Yes this version of Dumbledore is a powerful wizard and yes he wants the Wizarding World to be a better place for everyone, but he also at the same time finds himself really restrained by the mistakes of his past in regards to just how much he can do to make that dream a reality. Suffice it to say that in the moments of this film where we see both Grindelwald and Dumbledore on the screen together, the screen is just absolutely crackling with an energy that is downright vibrant and kinetic in all the best ways. We also see that this third chapter also does a wonderful job of tinkering with its returning cast of characters in ways that result in them becoming even more in the way of captivating than ever before. Indeed not only are characters like Newt’s aide Bunty and Yusuf Kama from the prior installment given more material to work with in this one, but Redmayne manages to provide Newt with shades of decency, comedic timing, and even assertiveness in ways that are novel and fresh and MVP of the franchise Dan Fogler continues doing a wonderful job at being the giant amount of heart that this franchise desperately requires whilst also giving this slice of cinema some truly hilarious instances courtesy of Jacob’s further immersion into the magical world. Suffice it to say that whilst there are flaws to be found in this film, they are not with the cast in front of the camera for they are truly magical.

All in all following a fairly bumpy road, I do have a little bit of faith that with The Secrets of Dumbledore, there might be a wee bit of life left within the Fantastic Beasts franchise. With that in mind, I think it could be said that if fans of a certain boy wizard whose name rhymes with Parry Otter really wanted to take in this franchise in a manner that could resemble conventional or acceptable then all they would have to do is just gloss over the last two movies released in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Yes possessing a much more immersive knowledge of the events that occurred in those films can be a positive. Yet with how wonderful of a job this slice of cinema does at bringing you, the viewer up to speed I really don’t feel like it is a 110% requirement. Suffice it to say that if you are the kind of person who is aiming to introduce people to this franchise, but you are concerned that missing the prior entries will leave the other person in the dark you can now rest easy knowing that’s not the case. With that being said, if this franchise is aiming to move forward on a 4th and 5th installment respectively then hopefully this entry will be the rebound point that those two can build off of. That is if the scribe for this one and especially actor Mads Mikkelsen are retained for those slices of cinema. Suffice it to say that I know it’s no hidden secret that expanding and growing a franchise is not a fairly difficult choice for the land of movie magic to consider. At the same time though, if expansion is easy then making said expansion actually work is the part that is difficult. The reason I bring this up is because Fantastic Beasts is starting to look like the latest in a long list of franchises that are having to learn this the hardest way possible. By the same token however, this is also one franchise that shows that maybe it is also starting to learn from what went seriously awry in order to make things right just in the nick of time. Thus with all of that on the table, all that is left is for fans of the Wizarding World to see this movie for themselves and figure out if they want the franchise to go on or if maybe it’s time to Avada Kedavra this franchise once and for all. Make of that what you will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.