The Secrets of Dumbledore — The Wizarding World is Boring Now

Image retrieved from TMDb

It’s a weird experience to watch the Fantastic Beasts movies as a big fan of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World, even putting to one side the myriad of offscreen problems that have plagued the franchise basically since its inception. From the very first installment, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, they’ve seemed to be in a perpetual state of identity crisis. Do they want to be about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his wonderful magical beasts, or do they want to be a dark prequel series about the first wizarding war? I don’t know! And I don’t think the movies do either! After the all-out disaster of The Crimes of Grindelwald in its on-screen execution, critical reception, the actor of the titular character being ousted after losing a libel lawsuit, and the once-beloved writer and creator going full mask-off, it would all but take a miracle for the third installment, The Secrets of Dumbledore, to be a success in any sense of the word. Well if you’ve been following the news cycle surrounding this movie and/or seen the movie itself, then you’re probably aware that the franchise is in deep, deep trouble.

There’s no clear place to start with this threequel thanks to its overabundance of undercooked ideas, uninspired action, and confusing magic, so I’ll just start off by saying it’s probably the worst Fantastic Beasts yet — it’s at least tied with Crimes, as they’re both muddled, confusing messes with not much positive to say about them beyond the fact that they exist in the same world as the Boy Who Lived himself. But the main thing that holds Secrets from reaching that “good” threshold is that it’s just so… boring. This is the second straight movie where we’ve almost exclusively witnessed Grindelwald talking in rooms until the climactic battle. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor and I never dislike seeing him, but just like Johnny Depp before him, his acting talents and charisma are thrown to the wayside in favor of standing around and delivering evil platitudes. Not once do I feel like I’ve learned anything about Grindelwald from his actions — it all comes from how other characters talk about him.

And I think that’s the biggest problem with this movie as a whole — so much happens, yet you learn so little about anything or anyone. Three movies in, and I know Newt likes his creatures and that he’s good-hearted (but only because Dumbledore repeatedly tells him so); I know Jacob (Dan Fogler) is a Muggle, he likes his magical friends, and he’s good-hearted (but only because Dumbledore tells him so); I know Credence (Ezra Miller) is conflicted and lost, but only because he always looks confused and makes the same blank stare expression as Edward from Twilight; I know Queenie (Alison Sudol) can read minds, but that’s only because it’s all she does. Anyone else, forget it. They’re just there to say their lines and be as dull as everyone else. Even newcomers Jessica Williams and Richard Coyle, and the returning, but more prominent Callum Turner are given little, if anything, to do.

But these characters aren’t dull due to bad performances. Each one of them has had moments to show off their brilliance, either in this series or in other entries in their filmography. In the Fantastic Beasts movies in particular, Fogler has been my perennial MVP. He’s endearing, funny, and charming, and manages to make something out of the little he’s given in the script. But since he’s mostly comedic relief — albeit excellent comedic relief — apart from moments here and there, the actor who gets the chance to gets the chance to show off their dramatic chops the most is Jude Law as Dumbledore. Crimes gave us glimpses of what he could be as the character, but Secrets has confirmed that he’s far and away the best live action Dumbledore we’ve gotten. Especially after the reveals about his character in The Deathly Hallows book, there are so many layers to this character. He has to at once be gentle, kind, deeply sad, quirky, intelligent, and confident. Law embodies each one of those nuances perfectly, and even with the dullness of this movie, I’d happily watch him bring this character to life for as long as he can.

I think a big part of what makes this Dumbledore so perfect and reminiscent of the character from the books is that J.K. Rowling herself is writing him, as opposed to the Potter movies where the screenplays were based off her novels. She injects the little moments of quirkiness and levity that make Dumbledore so singularly special — we’ve gotten his wisdom and gentleness with Richard Harris, and we’ve gotten his prowess as the greatest wizard with Michael Gambon, but Law’s version is the only one to bring in every aspect that makes me love the character. 

But unfortunately, the film’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Even though Steve Kloves, the writer of seven of eight Potter screenplays was brought in, it’s still quite clear that Rowling’s strengths lie as a novelist and not as a screenwriter. There are plot lines upon plot lines here, and none of them are given their full due. With each new entry in this series, the magical governments are becoming more and more muddled — each country has their own, but it seems like there also may be a United Nations type of deal that binds them all together. I wish it had been more clear, because this is what the entire climax hinges on. Meanwhile, the reveal about Credence from the end of Crimes is paid off, but not really taken anywhere interesting or noteworthy. It might even add more confusion than before. And the secrets of Dumbledore that are referred to in the title turn out to be no secret at all if you’ve read The Deathly Hallows. And worst of all, it’s still unclear what the role of Newt and his gang is even supposed to be. Dumbledore says their mission is to confuse Grindelwald, but instead, they just confuse both Jacob and the audience. Lastly and most regrettably, the beasts themselves take a back seat in this movie and aren’t much more than coincidental — that is, besides the Qilin, or the deer with a mustache that apparently decides wizarding elections. I don’t know.

What I’m learning from this series is that the first wizarding war was much more boring than I ever realized. Grindelwald is barely threatening, and while Rowling obviously wants him to be a Hitler figure, it’s just not working. The Secrets of Dumbledore is a missed opportunity to take a deeper look at a character with lots of depths to explore. It’s also a missed opportunity to inject life into a flailing franchise that’s ready to die. The actors really do try their best to make this watchable — and they succeed at times — and James Newton Howard brings yet another score worthy of the magic and whimsy of the Wizarding World, but they’re all fighting a losing battle against an ill-advised story direction. While I haven’t particularly enjoyed any Fantastic Beasts movie, the masochist in me would like to see how this series would end after its initially planned five movies. But the more logical part of myself is resigning to the fact that it just might be time to Avada Kedavra the series after three subpar, pandering movies. 

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