In The Secrets of Dumbledore, journey back to the realm of the Wizarding World, as Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending, The Trial of the Chicago 7), Dumbledore, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, The Holiday, Closer), and the rest of Dumbledore’s first army, assemble in a race against the clock to stop the dark wizard, Grindelwald, played by Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Another Round, The Hunt, Rogue One), from enacting a plot that not only threatens the stability of the Wizarding World, but promises to tear apart the Muggle world too.
As with the other entries in this universe, an impressive aspect that cannot be disputed is that this film contains some amazing visuals. Whether it be the stunning cinematography or the clear dedication that goes into the VFX for elements like the fight scenes and creatures, it is obvious that this universe is known for its visuals, and while it doesn’t make up for the story of a film, it does make the viewing more atmospheric and help envelope the viewer in the premise. The fights are fast paced, tense, and magical while managing to retain a grounded nature.
Now, the plot of this film, it’s one of its best, but also worst, features. On the one hand the story is full of memorable fights and plot points that add to the famous action quality of this universe, but on the other hand, when you strip back the story, it is clear to see that it doesn’t really achieve as much as it initially promises to.
True, the scale of the story and stakes are bigger, but that only exposes the gaps in intimate and smaller story telling features more. The aspect of having Grindelwald as this terrorist with a cult following is an intriguing and well executed part of the plot but in essence, all the narrative really does is fix the mistakes of past entries. The stakes feel worthless, because nothing is lost. In the last film Grindelwald took everything from the heroes which is, without spoiling anything, effectively reversed in this film. The writers build him up as a menacing and grand villain but this isn’t felt throughout, only at certain moments in the story, which lessens the character’s threatening reputation.
As with prior entries, the film introduces audiences to, as the name suggests, a range of new beasts which inhabit this rich world of magic. This is an element that keeps the universe feeling fresh, unpredictable and exciting. If the other planned sequels go ahead, it will be interesting to see if any other magical creatures from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book are incorporated, as this would further help to cement these spin-offs as a necessary and respectable addition to the Wizarding World.
Some story reveals are obvious to the viewer, but this isn’t too bad a touch as these segments aren’t too frequent and a nostalgia factor is always nice. What is more frequent however, are all the Easter eggs and nods to the wider Harry Potter franchise. Most of these are nice and appreciated touches like the Room of Requirement, as shown in trailers, however a few feel unnecessary, and only seem included to mask the film’s issues.
A very interesting factor included in the story is the appearance of the Ministry of Magic, but the one from a country not yet shown in the franchise until this point. Now obviously it makes sense that every country has one, but it helps to easily expand the world and showcase each country’s differing cultures. It also raises the interesting proposition of whether any more would be shown in the future. As the Fantastic Beasts series has introduced audiences to effectively one new location of a Ministry per film, it is very intriguing to think of other countries the series could be taken next. On the topic of references, a great aspect about this feature is the very familiar soundtrack. Using a number scores and tracks from previous entries, the film guarantees itself a quick and effective way to submerge the audience back into this universe.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It is fair to say that Mads Mikkelsen does a very good job at taking over the role from Depp, but it is also clear that there is a stark difference between the two accomplished actors, both in appearance and acting style.
The confusing approach taken by the film is to simply not mention the change in universe whatsoever and carry on like everything is normal. While this has occurred in the past, notably with Dumbledore and Voldemort, there is a more noticeable difference this time around with there not really being any continuity between the interpretations.
As there are obvious differences, it would have been more appropriate to try to weave in an in universe explanation, such as he was taking polyjuice potion or something to that effect, especially considering the character has masked his true appearance before.
What promised to be a brilliant and beloved spin-off anthology has been a rollercoaster, giving it an uncertain and at this point, unlikely future. Despite the story only really serving the purpose of fixing its predecessors mistakes, The Secrets of Dumbledore does possess some great qualities such as the evolution of Grindelwald’s ideals and following, along with the spectacles that are the fight scenes.
Ultimately, despite some great aspects, the narrative didn’t add much to the overall story and so the film felt a bit pointless. Fans of previous instalments may enjoy this, but it is honestly hard to say at this point, they all differ so much. Hopefully the planned sequels get made, and provide the franchise with an amazing send off, so that the Fantastic Beasts saga can finally rest in peace, and the wider Wizarding World can be left alone for a while.