Friday, April 15, 2022

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore - Review

Is there a franchise more steeped in controversy than Fantastic Beasts? With a creator constantly putting her foot firmly in her mouth, a lead villain being re-cast, and another supporting cast member dealing with their own legal issues, it’s hard to believe this third film even made it to theaters. But here we are, with the third film in a series that’s hardly about magical beasts at this point (or its a stretch to include them) and wants so badly to be bigger than it is. Like the first film, this entry feels once more like an extended prologue, just waiting for the bigger event to materialize. 

The wizarding world and the muggle world are on the brink of full scale war, and if Gellert Grindelwald, played by the seemingly always villainous Mads Mikkelsen, it’ll come to fruition. Opposing him is Albus Dumbledore, played again by the excellent Jude Law, who is unable to act against the dark wizard, and his intrepid team of wizards and witches led by magizoologist Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne. The plans are laid, the challenges faced, but Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers is determined to get him more and more power. 

It’s clear that the executives and creatives behind this film franchise regret focusing the first film around the shy and mild mannered Newt Scamander and his odd collection of magical creatures. It seemed impossible to make the Fantastic Beasts logo smaller on the title card after the second film, but it’s barely there this time. The franchise have delved fully into the Dumbledore origin territory, focusing almost solely on his conflict with his former partner and love Grindelwald. And honestly, that’s an interesting story angle to take, if you didn’t have a group of nondescript supporting members floating about in the forefront. 

The cast is not necessarily at fault here, they’re all pretty solid in their roles. Eddie Redmayne catches a lot of flack, but he’s always does the best he can with what he’s given. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski is always a welcome sight, even if his inclusion in these very dangerous magical affairs is questionable with each passing film. And the return of Jessica Williams as Lally Hicks brings at least an interesting performance to the bunch. But none of it matters when the story lacks any urgency, sending this odd collection of heroes on detours as the film bides it’s time trying to figure out how this is all going to come to an end.

Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as Grindelwald, and it makes one wonder why he wasn’t in the role from the start. He brings a casual menace to the character that the former actor of this role just can’t really muster (bleach blonde hair of course doing him no favors). In a better film, that drops any ideas of incorporating its supporting characters, the conflict between his Grindelwald and Law’s Dumbledore would be a fascinating watch. But this is not that film. 

Just like the previous two before it, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is boasts some impressive visuals. Whether it's the impeccable costume design or the odd creature work, it’s an impressively put together production. However, none of that is enough to inject any life into this film. It’s a step up from the last one, though not a high bar to clear, and a shining example of making a movie because you’re supposed to, whether you have another magical story to tell or not. 

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