It’s been two decades since teenage wizard Harry Potter and his friends made their cinematic last stand in the eighth film based off the novels by J.K. Rowling.
For a variety of reasons, attempts to keep the magic alive today have lost their spark with the third installment in a prequel franchise based on one of Potter’s school textbooks arriving with a whimper both critically and financially.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore follows magical zoologist Newt Scamander as he’s pulled into an escalating war between good wizards led by Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore against Gellert Grindlewald, a former love of Dumbledore seeking to establish wizards’ dominance over non-magical humans.
The biggest problem is that, by and large, this third installment is relatively uneventful and boring, largely circulating around election stealing and magical politics that will put younger audiences to sleep and make adults groan.
What made the original Harry Potter film franchise so successful was the idea that audiences knew in advance where things were going but were excited to see how they would unfold in cinematic fashion. It also helped that viewers could grow up with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint along the way, but the main issue with the stumbling Fantastic Beasts franchise is that the path is far less certain and much less entertaining along the way.
There’s no consistency in this cobbled together trilogy, which has changed the actor portraying the primary villain, Gellert Grindelwald, in each entry and stumbled through its integration of Harry Potter lore into a prequel where most fan favorite characters haven’t been introduced yet.
In its attempts to become a more serious film, Dumbledore removes much of the wonder and magic from the Fantastic Beasts franchise in order to reorient the franchise around Jude Law’s titular character to bring the films closer to the world of Harry Potter but further from what made the first film entertaining.
The beasts themselves, which were the highlight of each of the first two entries, take a relative backseat for much of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour film with fan favorites like lock picking Bowtruckle named Pickett and the gold obsessed Niffler. The primary new “beast” of note is largely used as a Macguffin to further the plot and kept out of sight for the majority of the film.
In fact, perhaps the best sequence of the entire film involves Newt charming crab like creatures with a fanciful dance.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Rowling also make the baffling decision to largely sideline major characters from the first two films, reducing Ezra Miller’s prominent role as the “obscurial” Creedence to a mere bit part and benching Katherine Waterston’s Tina, a co-lead with Redmayne for the first two films, almost entirely for Victoria Yeates’ turn as Newt’s longtime assistant, a less interesting and largely unmemorable character.
But there are some highlights to Dumbledore.
Law is terrific in the title role and offers some sincere emotional complexity even when it’s not entirely earned. Mads Mikkelsen is somewhat understated taking over the role of Grindelwald and the hints of faded love yet uneasy respect between him and Law are some of the best acting in the entire Fantastic Beasts franchise.
This isn’t to discount the work of Eddie Redmayne as Newt, either. Redmayne’s genuine affability successfully allows audiences to place themselves in the story seeing things through Newt’s eyes and it keeps large segments of the film afloat.
While Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore will need to do big business at the box office to sustain the life of the franchise going forward, the film itself will largely become nothing more than a minor footnote in the larger Wizarding World of Harry Potter and isn’t worth seeking out in theaters.