FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM: The Secrets of Dumbledore – movie review

Two Housekeeping notes before I begin – that’s the sort of thing they say at meetings, so this is like we’re at a super important meeting about butter or some such.

  1. Can we just talk about how silly it is for creatives/studios to declare at the outset of a film coming out – OH, well this is the first part in an ELEVENTY-HUNDREDTH PART SERIES! I get it, some stories need room to breathe but unless it’s based on books or properties where it’s a direct adaptation you are CHOOSING to make it that length. And hey, good for you being so optimistic but maybe have a story in mind that you can tell and have a backup plan so that, you know, if the actors go nutty, or the writer goes nutty, or the numbers aren’t there you can wrap it all up without just pulling the plug and shrugging at the fans that stuck with you. I like these movies but I dunno that we need five movies to tell this story. That’s me saying this but, I mean, come on now. Five? Based on a thin volume she wrote for years ago. Now, they can HOPE there are several movies, and PLOT it that way, but I dunno, just…maybe be less optimistic and bold? There are so many properties anymore that are successful and then left to rot on the vine – AHEM, Walking Dead – when the stories they were telling ran out of steam seasons earlier. Yeah, WD, in this case, was a comic that went on for years and years but there is a HUGE difference in putting out even a monthly book that’s like, thirty-forty pages, many times with just panels of imagery, and then putting out nearly a dozen seasons of hour-long programs. JUST SAYING! I digress.
  2. OK, elephant in the room time. I get the people that hate J.K. Rowling’s opinion on trans people and am not going to be the one to defend her wrong-headed opinion. What I will say though is that as ignorant as that opinion is, and troubling, (and easily weaponizable, as she’s starting to see, I think), she also created a series of books that changed culture, publishing, and films. That’s the hard part here is she’s done SO much good and has given so many kids an alternative to some of the stories that were out there for them, that it’s hard to see her behave so angrily towards people she doesn’t even know. She still has some great stories in her, and I still love the work she’s done, but, like too many creatives we are finding, she isn’t someone whose opinion I would seek out. So, I get it, you are either over her and all things she’s done, or you are willing to enjoy the art and furrow your brow at the artist, or you’re some creepy fascist who likes her opinion and need counseling.

Anyway, WELCOME!

Let’s dig in.

      The Secrets of Dumbledore starts off very very quickly, wasting no time to get into things, with Newt trying to save a magical creature and her newborn baby as an opposing force seeks to steal that baby. We enter a world where the scales are tipping. Grindlewald, who had seemed like such a polarizing, murderous figure, is gaining ground in the wizarding world. More and more people are seeing that he may be right in wanting to exert the power of the magical world over the Muggle world so that they can be in full dominance and not hiding any longer. There is an upcoming election to decide who shall lead the magical world and Grindlewald has eyes on that election but first must exonerate himself. Opposing him though is Dumbledore, Newt, and some new and some familiar faces, who are working against time to stop these magical fascists before it’s too late. One of the many secrets that comes to the fore here is that Dumbledore himself cannot move against Grindlewald due to a pact they made to never fight one another, partially due to an alliance of views at the time, and partially as a romantic bond. As things race towards their conclusion, we start to realize that, mirroring the human world, the world of wizards may be moving towards a fascist ideal where only the ‘chosen’ will be favored and indeed saved and the muggles will merely become the servant class. Due to some trickery, deceit, and complicity on the part of some of the wizards in power, Grindlewald may just get what he wants.

      This is a very fast past movie and Yates brings a deft direction that both understands this world and these films. Under his eye the film moves very quickly and doesn’t waste time. We’re at the third film. While there is an awkward re-cap moment as one character speaks to another, it’s brief and does catch us up to speed. This is easily the best film of the series and gets to the point rather quickly. The change of Mikkelsen for Depp is a good one. Depp was fine in the role of Grindlewald and was good at being menacing but as we learn more about his relationship with Dumbledore, we needed a little more nuance and a little more sociopath and less psychopath. We need to believe that Grindlewald is the kind of person who could lead a cult of personality because he is that charismatic. We do now. With some of the revelations in the film it gives Dumbledore more depth and another character some humanity we’ve never seen before. While there are some really corny moments, and one character’s accent (while fun) feels too much out of a ‘40’s movie to not be taken aback, the script is good, and Rowling and company did a great job of showing the rise of Grindlewald’s fascism as a mirror to the real-world fascism of the time and also of our time. Grindlewald cares about nothing save his goal and achieving it at any cost and we have seen leaders just like that these past few years.

The film does feel long at times, as we pop around to other points to rescue this person or learn this fact, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The biggest gripe I have is one of familiarity, and I think it is a reflection of how we the audience has changed. These just don’t feel as ‘magical’ as the original Harry Potter films, they don’t feel as ‘easy’ as those films felt. Part of that is that we can connect with kids a lot more easily as they go through the things they did. Look at the first and second IT films and you see that. We just are more empathetic towards kids. There’s also a bit of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ about these films. Had the LORD OF THE RINGS films never come out and we saw the HOBBIT films first most of us would have been blown away. It doesn’t mean we would have needed three films to tell that story, but we would have been in awe at seeing that world. Same goes for these films. Yes, they are not as engaging as the Harry Potter films – she’s making a new mythology out of a slim volume here, so there’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done – but these are still fun movies. The biggest issue is that Newt isn’t as compelling as Harry was. We don’t feel we know him as well as we knew Harry. It’s like we see him DOING things but not GOING THROUGH things. Still and all though, these are well made, solid films and they’re either your cup of tea or they aren’t.

If you can get past the controversy of the creator and you like these worlds, then you should dig this.

If you can’t see past the controversy, then you really aren’t going to regret not seeing this film or this series. They are fun, and I thoroughly enjoy them, but they haven’t taken the public’s imagination and breath like the previous films, and it doesn’t seem as if these are hot topics on the socials.

I had a fun time with Secrets of Dumbledore and look forward to more…though I’d like to see a conclusion more than a continuation. Just saying.

4 out of 5

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