It’s been a four year wait for the third Fantastic Beasts instalment. Delays due to COVID, the Depp-debacle and script fine-tuning pushed the flick back nearly a year. Is it worth the wait? Is four years long enough to ‘obliviate’ the many unimpressed critics that panned the Crimes of Grindelwald? Does The Secrets of Dumbledore bring the magic required to ‘accio’ a mask-wearing, vax certificate-carrying crowd to the box office?
Firstly, let it be known that I’m a fan. Harry Potter is my jam: Proud Hufflepuff here! Whilst the first two flicks in the Fantastic Beasts series had their flaws (and raised questions among diehard fans about possible inconsistencies) their undeniable charm, nostalgic nods and strong performances kept me satisfied. The flicks were familiar enough in “feel” to fit within the existing Wizarding World as we knew it, but different enough to keep things interesting. In fact, for me personally, The Secrets of Dumbledore is the first to feel like the odd one out.
As Grindelwald’s cruel campaign of “greater good” gathers momentum, Albus Dumbledore enlists Newt Scamander and friends to thwart Grindelwald’s latest effort to gain power. Set against the historical backdrop of rising fascism in Europe, the story has a solemn tone – despite clear efforts to add comedy and light-heartedness. It’s a slow burner of a film, with small pockets of well-executed action and some truly awesome displays of magic. However, the writing is weaker than its predecessors; it ultimately feels like it’s not really going anywhere in particular….which is odd, as Secrets sees the return of screenwriter Steve Kloves (he penned all but one of the Harry Potter screenplays), who was reportedly invited on board to assist JK Rowling after the poor critical reception of the last instalment.
After The Crimes of Grindelwald left us with an unexpected cliff hanger, fans the world over debated just how JK Rowling was going ease the confusion she’d created in Harry Potter fans. Yet The Secrets of Dumbledore does do a pretty thorough job of answering most of our questions. In fact, it’s quite surprising how much this instalment reveals about Dumbledore after book fans (or was it just me?!) endured 15 years of uncertainty after the 2007 Deathly Hallows novel toppled the character from his glorified pedestal via those scathing excerpts from The Life and Lies of Dumbledore, and the revelations of his always forgotten brother, Aberforth. It’s satisfying to finally get further insight in to the mysterious man that is Albus Percival Wulfric… Brian… Dumbledore.
Despite the weaker screenplay, the cast continues to offer up strong performances – including newly cast Grindelwald, Mads Mikkelsen. (Unless you’ve fallen victim to a ‘muffliato’ or ‘repello muggletum’ charm, you would have heard about Johnny Depp being given the boot). Whatever your feelings on Depp’s forced departure, Mikkelsen offers a smarter casting choice here, creating a less repelling portrayal of Grindelwald that you can more readily believe Dumbledore formed a relationship with in his youth.
In a nutshell, Secrets is entertaining, visually impressive and offers greater character development for Albus (and let’s not forget Aberforth!) Dumbledore. The musical score shines and the displays of magic are uber cool. However, it rarely feels like it’s building to a clear climax and leaves you feeling slightly underwhelmed.
I rate it 7/10.