Movie review: Fantastic Beasts – The Secrets of Dumbledore
The characters we came to love through the Harry Potter franchise get a decidedly dark makeover in a continuing prequel that offers deeper moral dilemmas and more cute creatures, but an overstuffed plot that drains sympathy.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Starring: Jude Law, Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Mads Mikkelsen, Katherine Waterston
Directed by: David Yates
Running time: 2 hrs 22 minutes
Rating: Parental Guidance
By Katherine Monk
Harry Potter powered up the creative universe beyond the world J.K Rowling created with her first slender outing about a boy wizard. The profits of the Potter franchise funded myriad other works, from an entire slate of Canadian publishing (including a book about Canadian Cinema called Weird Sex & Snowshoes) to a sprawling spin-off series designed as a prequel to the universe inhabited by Harry, Hermione, Ron and ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named.’
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third instalment in the prequel, and like everything Harry Potter’s publication wrought, it owes a large debt to the original characters and the good will they engendered with a generation. We loved the little orphan Harry and embarked on his quest for moral justice in the face of absolute evil. Not only was it great character-based drama, it carried on a narrative tradition rooted in Judea-Christian faith — yet, via Rowling’s magical prose — reiterated without a single mention of the word, or very concept of “God.”
Rowling gave us a world with ordinary people called “Muggles,” and a parallel world concealed just beneath the surface where wizards, witches and all brands of empowered spirits are locked in a battle between absolute good and unrelenting evil. All the forces affecting man are contained on this conflicted planet, which means Rowling’s moral equation is hermetic and ensures every character is forced to bear the responsibility for his or her own actions, inactions and incalculable betrayals. There are no easy outs or epic laments issued skyward at an ambivalent almighty. The characters in this universe must live with consequences, and that’s just what Albus Dumbledore is struggling to do in this latest movie — only with limited success.
…Every character is forced to bear the responsibility for his or her own actions, inactions and incalculable betrayals. There are no easy outs or epic laments issued skyward at an ambivalent almighty. The characters in this universe must live with consequences, and that’s just what Albus Dumbledore is struggling to do in this latest movie…
Without exhausting your attention by recapping what happened before this movie even begins, suffice to say Dumbledore (played as a younger man by Jude Law) is trying to correct a mistake he made when he was a younger man — when he still believed in his fellow wizards, and his close friends.
Being a good person as well as a talented spell caster, Dumbledore decided to trust someone he loved, offering his power to augment a risky incantation he spun with Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen instead of Johnny Depp). Tragically, his trust was ill-placed. Grindelwald exploited Dumbledore’s kindness for his own egotistical ends, and now threatens to use the powerful magic to destroy all Muggles, as well as any remaining vestiges of kindness and humanity.
It’s straight up good vs. Evil, which is where Rowling and co-screenwriter Steve Kloves set themselves up for a narrative win because while so much of the story depends on franchise knowledge and character continuity, the core story is easy to follow: Dumbledore and Grindelwald have an intimate and rocky past, and they share a dark secret that forms the dense and dark heart of the larger arc.
The opening sequence gives us a good taste of what the next two hours has in store. We see a deer-like creature in an enchanted wood. She is giving birth, but the moment after we see the cute baby fawn, the mother is slaughtered — a la Bambi — and the baby is loaded into a sac and taken to Grindelwald’s castle.
The opening sequence gives us a good taste of what the next two hours has in store. We see a deer-like creature in an enchanted wood. She is giving birth, but the moment after we see the cute baby fawn, the mother is slaughtered — a la Bambi….
Apparently, these cute and noble animals can see into the hearts of men, and separate the narcissistic vampires from the righteous do-gooders. In the wizarding world, they are often used to select good-hearted leaders, but Grindelwald knows the creature will see right through him — and forever dash his hopes of ultimate power — leaving him no alternative but to sacrifice the wobbly-legged magical fawn.
Yes. We are forced to watch these acts of brutality, and it’s nothing less than jarring — especially in a movie aimed at young people. Unlike Harry Potter, which didn’t pander to a younger audience with contrived cuteness, the Fantastic Beasts franchise felt like sugar-dipped merchandizing scheme from the get-go.
Not only did it out-do Dr. Seuss for its cast of sweet-faced species, it seemed to inspire Eddie Redmayne to compete for cute points as the character of Newt Scamander — a magic zoologist/ veterinarian charged with keeping the fantastic beasts safe, and contained.
Redmayne is frequently too cloying in the role of romantically impaired Newt to be sympathetic, but the same could be said for every character — including the adorable Dumbledore.
This movie is a trophy case of shiny, but empty, vessels. We get big performance value, but very little feeling from this ensemble of confused, selfish and frequently arrogant wand-wavers. As a result, it feels busy but not all that suspenseful.
The central redeeming feature —outside the sweet CGI beasts — is the dynamic between Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen. The two veteran actors cast a cinematic spell when they appear in scenes together, generating enough narrative steam to get us through the dull fog of plot and keeping us interested on a psychological level. If only we had more of these moments of believable human tension, instead of long, cruel swaths of green-screen silliness, The Secrets of Dumbledore could have left a deep impression instead of a shallow dent.
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THE EX-PRESS. April 15, 2022