Does anyone care about the Fantastic Beasts franchise anymore?
Evil wizard Grindlewald is still out there, but with the great Dumbledore powerless to act against him, a political powerplay seems inevitable. However, a team of unlikely heroes could stop the conspiracy, if they act as unpredictably as possible.
In 2018 we got our first look at what a film screenplay written by children’s fantasy author J.K Rowling would look like with Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindlewald, the second film following a story loosely based off a monster encyclopaedia. It was… a chaotic mess, leaving audiences mostly confused, and Harry Potter fans angry at story retcons and alterations to canonical history. Since then, there has been two pointed issues behind the scenes… namely Rowling’s social-political views, and a court case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard which resulted in Depp’s removal from playing Grindlewald, replaced now by Mads Mikkelsen.
So to say that production of the Fantastic Beasts films is a thorny subject is to give an understatement.
But does it rise above the troubles behind the scenes?
Not really, no.
The third film does some things that Crimes did not; for example, it is better paced and isn’t rife with confusing narrative plot points and cameos that us muggles won’t understand. In fact, Secrets of Dumbledore is a very straight-forward narrative by comparison. But it is quite something when the screenwriter actually write it into the script that the heroes “need to act and behave randomly” to succeed. It feels like a writer’s get-out-of-jail-free card. Can’t write a cohesive plot? Just validate that in the storytelling!
But what actually happens here?
The title of these films should be Fantastic Beasts and Where does Newt Scamander Fit into This. This film’s central plot of political intrigue revolves around, you guessed it, a fantastic beast. Supposedly, the “Leader of the Wizarding World” is determined by a mystical creature called a Qilin, which will bow towards the candidate with a pure heart.
Also, Newt’s brother (remember, he has a brother?) is kidnapped extremely randomly and there’s a rescue sequence where Newt’s zoologist powers comes into play.
Other than that, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt still has very little to actually do in these movies.
Of course, and… mild spoilers here… this isn’t anything compared to this political storyline being a thinly veiled analogy of modern day politics, specifically, Grindlewald is a proxy for President Donald Trump. Indeed, somehow Grindlewald is absolved of his crimes, and moreover is allowed to run for Leader of the Wizarding World because “he will lose.”
The film’s writing is ridiculously simplistic as well, for being a story of such political focus. Dan Fogler’s Jacob is like Marvel’s Hawkeye; despite wanting nothing to do with the story anymore. He is probably the most human character, yet has zero motivation or agency. He even lost Queenie as she turned to “the dark side”, right. Right?
Let’s say any consequences, past misgivings, character development, urgency, are all swept aside with little more than a “he lied to you”, or “I won’t leave you.” There is so little intrigue between characters as the story progresses; the overall story arc doesn’t seem interest in providing any lasting suspense or drama.
But you could say, oh, Cinema Cocoa, Rowling wrote children’s books. Why all this talk of missing intrigue and drama? Well, firstly, children’s stories are the last form of prose that should be described as “boring”, and secondly the original Harry Potter stories were packed with dramatic turns and long-reaching storylines and animosities.
Plus, kid’s films are generally funny. Secrets of Dumbledore is a surprisingly unfunny experience.
Even director David Yates, who managed to give the previous film Crimes of Grindlewald at least a veneer of polish and interesting visuals… seems a little drab for cinematography here. A distinctly forgettable experience visually compared to contemporary movies it is competing with.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the film is Dumbledore and Grindlewald’s relationship. Although it too gets defused easily and suddenly enough, like every other piece of character development. Mads Mikkelsen is good in the villain role, and delivers on the more nuanced scenes alongside Jude Law. But it is also Mikkelsen’s stereotypical role. So while he is effective as the character, it would have been equally fascinating to have seen the more visually-eccentric Johnny Depp Grindlewald in these scenes instead.
So, there isn’t much recommending Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore. It is a plainly (and painfully) mediocre movie, and is instantly forgettable. While it cannot be rated below a 2, given that it had performances which were acceptable and the plot wasn’t totally nonsensical, it is not far off it.
Additional Marshmallows: I hope you weren’t keen to see Katherine Waterston’s Tina again. Looks like she got out of this franchise quicker than the rest.