Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is meant to be the third movie in a five-movie prequel to Harry Potter. But, maybe sensing that the box office returns have been diminishing, this movie basically wraps up all dangling plot threads. The bad guy remains at large at the end but crack a book or watch the Potter movies because eventually he gets caught. (Knowing the outcome is sort of a dramatic problem inherent in prequels.) Secrets is more propulsive than its inert predecessor, Crimes of Grindelwald, but isn’t as much fun as the first Fantastic Beasts. This feels like mandatory franchise extension that is only recommended for Potter completists but does contain a few good moments scattered here and there.
Dark wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikklesen) is on the loose and unable to stop him is the powerful good wizard, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). It’s not just that Dumbledore is conflicted as Grindelwald’s former flame, it’s that he literally cannot act against Grindelwald due to a powerful blood magic curse which prevents the two from harming each other. Grindelwald has taken an important magic creature known as a Qilin which basically looks like a magic baby deer, but what he doesn’t know is that Dumbledore’s friend, Newt (Eddie Redmayne) has possession of a second Qilin. Dumbledore rounds up a posse of good wizards and the non-magical human Jacob (Dan Fogler) to stop Grindelwald from acquiring more power. This may be difficult as Grindelwald has under his employ dark wizards, Jacob’s former girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol), the powerful and doomed magical Obscurus Credence (Ezra Miller) who has a family connection to Dumbledore. Even more of a problem, Grindelwald is running for magical leader and even though his campaign is based around evil wizard anarchy and war against non-magical people, he might win.
The ads for Secrets of Dumbledore have been kicking off with the iconic moment from Philosopher’s Stone where Harry is told that the wand chooses the wizard. It has zero to do with this prequel; the clip is desperately trying to trade on nostalgia for the Potter franchise and translate it to this film. Also, the title Secrets of Dumbledore doesn’t have a thing to do with what happens in this movie. There is one big secret, but it isn’t even about Albus but instead it has to do with Albus’ lesser-known bartender brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle). Also, at the end of the movie there is an elaborate fake out with one of Newt’s cases which may technically count as a secret. But the title is nothing more than throwing out the brand name of one of the most recognizable characters in Potter lore to ensnare ticket buyers.
Mikklesen replaces Johnny Deep as Grindelwald, although it is a bit annoying that in a series that is built upon shameless fan service the script couldn’t have mentioned that Grindelwald was wearing a new face since he spent the first movie pretending to be someone else. Mikklesen is definitely an upgrade as he’s pretty nefarious; the way he delivers his lines on the surface seems understanding with an undercurrent of menace. His rise to political power and collective belief in his horrible views can be seen as a direct riff on Donald Trump and the acceptance of authoritarian horribleness for pureblood purity is sadly resonant.
Law as Dumbledore is his opposite, kind and sympathetic. He has a great scene when he confronts the blood curse, and it is shocking to see a powerful wizard brought low by a locket. He also has trippy magic fights, like when he battles Credence and jumps out of different dimensions like something out of Doctor Strange. Coyle as Albus’ brother comes off as appropriately bitter since Albus is a fantastic wizard and he’s running a dive.
The series began with Redmayne’s Newt as the main character but he’s basically been relegated to supporting member of Dumbledore’s army as he’s way less interesting. Redmayne has moments of empathy, although his best moment in this film is when he’s crab walking to distract magic monster crabs and save his brother, Thesesus (Callum Turner). The fact that Newt has a barely important brother is a symptom of how bloated the cast for this series has gotten. Jacob tags along for no discernible reason aside from Fogler being the punchline of a few jokes. Sudol as his ex-girlfriend turned into one of Grindelwald’s dark wizard acolytes isn’t really all that dark, she’s just misunderstood and looks sad about her life choices. Credence’s background as a Dumbledore was a huge revelation that capped off the last film but his family relation here is basically addressed as an anticlimactic afterthought. Miller does make Credence seem like a live wire who can go off at any moment and he is appropriately pathetic when it’s revealed the Obscurus curse is killing him. He doesn’t become the big baddie like the last movie promised but his character delivers some interesting twists.
Director David Yates has been helming Potter movies since 2007 and this film is at its best when it concentrates on spectacle and wands blasting waves of magic power. As far as (basically) wrapping up the Fantastic Beasts storyline, Secrets of Dumbledore puts a capper on a story that nobody asked for. Ultimately, this was an okay deep dive into Potter-universe backstory lore.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston and Mads Mikkelsen