The Secrets of Dumbledore is only recommended for the most hardcore of Harry Potter fans and even they may take issue.
Published on July 14, 2022
Rating 1.5 /5
For being a prequel series to the Harry Potter movies, it feels like the Fantastic Beasts movie is struggling to be a more adult take on the wizarding world. This is not just because the films deal with more adult characters rather than teenage ones. The central problem with this latest entry, The Secrets of Dumbledore, is an issue that has plagued all of the Fantastic Beast films. They are far too intricate with needlessly complex plots and prequel characters with messy backstories that often muddy the Harry Potter lore. This third film marks the messiest to date, making it seem almost merciful that this will be the last of what was to be a five-movie series.
There is just way too much going on to keep the story straight, let alone care all that much for the characters. The central character would seem to be Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the wizard cryptozoologist who seems a tad more convinced to join in the fight to prevent a civil war between muggles and wizards. But is he? His role seems hard to place when so many other characters crowd the screen, making his many scenes of caring for magical creatures feel like busywork for the would-be protagonist.
We have Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), the wizard professor with a sordid past and a blood oath to acknowledge. We have Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a young wizard with dangerous powers that could bring about war. We have Gellert Grindelwald (recast with Mads Mikkelsen), the big conspirator behind this forthcoming war who, by the way, is trying to pit wizards against muggles by revealing to them the forthcoming holocaust. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is a magical official who had a prominent role in the past two films but is strangely absent from this film for some reason. Also present is the underdog muddle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the ally-turned-villain Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), Newt’s brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), and so many other players thrown into the mix.
It’s honestly tough to keep track of everything going on in this sordid history of wizard politics. At one point, the band of do-good wizards ventures to Germany to stress the political situation regarding Grindelwald’s rise to power. After Grindelwald is found not guilty of his charges, a secret police of sorts kidnaps another wizard in broad daylight with a bitter Newt being informed there’s nothing he can do because of Chinatown logic or something like that. Before that exchange, we get to watch Newt save a magical creature known as a Qilin from Chinese mythology and give birth. Later, Newt will do a silly crab walk to appease some deadly creatures when freeing another wizard from prison.
And that’s only what’s happening in the present. In terms of recounting the past, there’s far too much lore stuffed into this fantasy picture posing a period thriller. Sometimes these aspects work okay as when Dumbledore and Grindelwald meet in the opening scene, highlighting their sordid past and bitter blood pact that drives them to despise each other but never attack. That meeting is honestly the best part of the picture considering that Law and Mikkelsen are two top-notch actors throwing themselves into these roles. Sadly, their rivalry is mostly lost in a sea of swirling wizard politics and magical detours, really stressing how much of a bridge movie this is intended to be.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some clever sequences present. A magical chase/fight between Dumbledore and Credence is pretty neat considering how fast they transport and how quickly their magic sends them hurtling through streets and buses. There are also some decent conclusions reached for what will become of Jacob and Queenie’s relationship, Dumbledore’s blood pact with Grindelwald, and Credence having a homecoming. But all of it is so muddled in an overly complex tapestry that honestly looks rather bland with its dull color schemes and half-intriguing magic displays.
The Secrets of Dumbledore is only recommended for the most hardcore of Harry Potter fans and even they may take issue. Even if one can ignore trying to decipher all the ins and outs of the wizarding world, the film is just not nearly as magical or engaging as the Harry Potter movies. The Fantastic Beasts will not be returning for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is regarding the troubles of casting and the lacking box office. Given how lukewarm the response has been from even the Wizarding World devout, the cancellation of this series won’t exactly be a loss for the once towering blockbuster franchise.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.