Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a rather drab entry to the fantastical world of the Harry Potter lore, despite expectations high and story possibilities wide. Mainly suffering from a loss in direction, becoming a bit of a greatest hits of Potter with the truth being that it’s far too easy to forget, despite a few inventive, exciting set pieces, and after intriguing story build-up, it never fulfils its potential.
Focusing this time on Professor Albus Dumbledore (very well portrayed by Jude Law), who is out to stop Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) taking control of the wizarding world. Of course, he cannot take on such a task by himself, given his strength as a Dark wizard, so he enlists the talents (and help) of our main Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a new covenant of wizards, witches and one brave Muggle in the shape of the excellent Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, who brings a lot of the good stuff, to take on the good fight against Grindelwald’s growing army. In essence, Dumbledore gets everyone else to do all the stuff again, as he always has, but stepping in every now and then – that’s the character though, so that works.
Director David Yates opens with a dark, dusky sequence somewhere with Newt, where he must rescue the exceedingly rare offspring of a Qilin: a magical creature which can detect the purest of hearts and see the future, it’s also used in Wizarding elections to decide who’ll lead the Wizarding World – and you’ll come to learn that Grindelwald wants it for all the wrong reasons. This setting up sequence is all very bloody and death-filled, and we learn of the blood pact between Dumbles and Grindles, and how they can’t fight each other whilst it exists. Not too unlike things gone before…
The Secrets of Dumbledore features good performances from the ensemble cast but there’s so much silence, and repeated concerned looks, which becomes tiresome. Whilst we built up years of HP and moved slowly through from the light to the dark – and it made so much sense – Fantastic Beasts suffers from a lovely big setup, with little connection and not many characters to care about. Whilst the early trailers genuinely got me hyped for the adventure, the end result is all too generic for the wealth of the world it exists within.
Saying this, and I want to point out positives, a selection of sequences are nicely achieved the dining room fight is wonderful to watch, and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) up against Dumbledore in the street (and all the reveal there) is brilliantly realised, and visually intensive. Another stand out sequence, despite the silliness, is Newt against the small and big Manticores which offer us up his usual funny animal-like behaviour, showing off his talent for animal attraction and control.
The problem I’ve got in this prequel, and this is obviously one hidden inside a Fantastic Beasts suit (which was travelling along nicely in its own merit), is that we’re pushed a story that ends up taking away from other possibilities. Sure, Dumbledore’s history is an interesting one, and Law gives an impressive performance, but I found the combination of a general absence of connection within the story alongside a lacklustre finale, means it almost fades to black without a whimper or a full (film) conclusion.
Missing is a natural vibrancy and life you’ve felt before, and obviously certain people won’t die, which is a key issue with modern flashback stories, and so the impact and intensity drops. This is why other Fantastic Beasts stories are important to tell – look at Rogue One for a notable example. Although, thankfully, Dan Fogler remains a huge part of Secrets of Dumbledore, and his relationship with Alison Sudol’s Queenie is broken but through no fault of his own. This all holds up, because it’s been built and developed, and whilst others get dragged off to different things, his heart and focus never falters. And you can feel it.
Redmayne’s Newt is good enough, and he’s a likeable character, but his traits and actions tend to be quite similar, a funny dance, a silly one – it does break up the monotony though, that’s for sure. His brother Theseus (Callum Turner) isn’t likeable either, they needed someone less Eton, and more levelled, to have a sincere relationship. Victoria Yeates’ Bunty has a spark in her, she’s a curious character but doesn’t have enough to do despite an important role, and Jessica Williams’ Eulalie ‘Lally’ Hicks also shines through, with Mads Mikkelsen bringing all the stares, but he can’t do a lot wrong, in my book.
As good as it looks, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore simply lacks – and that was more disheartening than anything, considering the big setup. Far too much hard work, and and I really didn’t want it to be.