Review of “Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets”

Do you remember the year 2000, even before the release of the first “Harry Potter” movie? Big as a cinder block and almost as heavy, the fourth novel in JK Rowling’s bestselling YA series inspired fans to line up at bookstores nationwide days in advance. At 734 pages, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ was a monster – the biggest book many young fans had ever considered reading. It took effort to pull through, though those that brought profound and immediate rewards to those bewitched by the parallel reality that Rowling had invented, a reality where wizards existed alongside us, unhappy, no -magic.

Well, here we are, three movies in Rowling’s convoluted big-screen prequel saga, and the series looks like work again, only this time the resulting pleasures will hit audiences very differently, depending on your skill level. of dedication to the franchise. “Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets” is rooted deep in Rowling’s wizarding world mythology, rarely slowing down long enough to explain the magical spells or strategies used by its characters. This will no doubt upset casual viewers, keeping them away from the interpersonal relationships that make this great fight for the planet worth watching. But worshipers will likely love the reveals in store, including a deeper engagement in the tragic love story between beloved Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and the wizard determined to settle a score with the Muggle kind. .

Johnny Depp is out, but his character, Gellert Grindelwald, has become more powerful than ever. Now played by Mads Mikkelsen (without addressing the switch) in a more grounded and cartoonishly less menacing vein, Grindelwald is determined to start a world war around the same time a certain Nazi was elected Chancellor of Germany. The parallels to the rise of fascism are as unmistakable as the inspiration for the character’s new haircut, which has gone from a stark white sea anemone to a fat Hitler-like topknot.

After doing so much to lend consistency and credibility to Rowling’s vision over the course of four “Harry Potter” films and an overworked spin-off, director David Yates hit an unexpected low with the second installment, “The Crimes of Grindelwald”, a busy and disconcerting film. a horror that seemed more interested in showing off all sorts of CG trickery than telling an elegant and engaging story. While “Dumbledore’s Secrets” doesn’t exactly embrace simplicity, the script – no longer credited to Rowling alone, but co-written by stalwart “Harry Potter” adapter Steve Kloves – feels much more focused. Fortunately, the execution turns out to be all the easier to follow.

Unlike the “Harry Potter” films, which put the fate of mankind in the hands of three boarding school-bound children, the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” cycle deals primarily with adult wizards in the wider world of the early 20th century. . Early on, Yates used this opportunity to demonstrate what mature practitioners of magic are capable of – their abilities should surely be spectacular, though it was hard not to feel overwhelmed watching impossible things happen. As Rowling brought the full extent of her creativity to the screen, however, she left little room for the audience to use her own imagination, robbing us of the best thing about her books.

We have characters that constantly change shape and others that can walk through walls or teleport across countries; explosions nearly destroyed entire towns, while defensive techniques protected some wizards from injury. There was even a spell that mass erased the minds of witnesses, giving the filmmakers the right to do whatever they wanted, as imaginary animals misbehaved and ran amok and a miserable “orphan” – and incredibly dangerous – named Credence caused trouble every time he lost his temper. (He’s played by Ezra Miller, an intense young actor whose off-screen antics might get him fired from the sequel, given what happened to Deep.)

As a young Luke Skywalker, Credence found himself torn between the forces of good and evil as he attempted to research the mystery of his origins. The latest twist in ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ concerned a baby bird that Credence had adopted, which abruptly transformed from a harmless-looking newborn into a flamboyant adult phoenix – a creature known to come to the rescue. to members of the Dumbledore clan in times of need. Three years later, “Dumbledore’s Secrets” finally reveals the nature of Credence’s connection to this family, causing his allegiance to waver between Grindelwald and Albus.

It turns out that these two competing leaders were once quite close. Gazing into the mirror of the Rised reflecting longing in the last film, Dumbledore described himself and Grindelwald as “more than brothers”, and recalled a memory of them forming a blood pact from years earlier. Because of this connection – similar to the one a violent attack will forge between Harry and Voldemort – neither Dumbledore nor Grindelwald can even think of hurting the other without endangering their own lives. Time and time again, usually for the best, love trumps reason in these films.

An enchanted pendant protecting the pact complicates the showdown that everyone can see coming. In order to stop Grindelwald’s takeover, Dumbledore will have to rely on proxies, namely Newt Scamander, the endearing and clumsy magizoologist played by Eddie Redmayne in the first two “Fantastic Beasts” films. Grindelwald is also blocked but has an advantage, using a rare and highly revered dragon-stag creature called a qilin to see into the future. (The character’s brutal treatment of this noble and seemingly defenseless species is incredibly difficult to watch, even if the animal doesn’t actually exist.)

Prophecies aren’t new to Rowling’s storytelling, though here we get the added wrinkle that Grindelwald only sees snippets of what’s to come, and can therefore be foiled by “counter-sight” – a tactic of doing deliberately deceptive things to confuse him while keeping the real intentions a secret until the last moment. It’s a fun albeit absurd plan, and one that nevertheless earns points for its originality.

Three-fifths into this series, ugly and unsightly enchantment overload is clearly the agreed-upon aesthetic, as Rowling and Kloves again come up with a plot that’s considerably more convoluted than necessary. Take on the task given to Newt’s amorous assistant, Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), who orders half a dozen identical copies of her boss’s leather case, to conceal the one containing the qilin during the scene. climax. This pattern is unlikely to fool anyone who can see the future. In fact, if anyone is confused by the elaborately choreographed trick, it’s us, the audience.

This seems to be the key strategy of the “Fantastic Beasts” movies – which, by the way, also serves what passes for real-world magic: distracting the audience, so they don’t see the stuff and are therefore deceived into believing things as they are presented. Somewhere along the way, however, this franchise stopped being fun. If the eight “Harry Potter” films made us want to enroll in this same school, the “Fantastic Beasts” series makes everything seem oppressive and unpleasant, on the verge of a second World War II – one that will be presumably narrowly avoided in future films, and that the non-magical sphere is unlikely to win if Grindelwald ever succeeds.

Still, there’s something to be said for how Rowling’s vision spans multiple films, how each episode feels like watching the final season of a high-profile HBO series (a PG alternative -13 suitable for adults to “Game of Thrones”). No other film series works in such intricate, multi-installment arcs, planting details that will almost certainly pay off in future chapters. Building on what Peter Jackson did with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Rowling and Warner Bros. radically expanded the way cinema could be used to tell serialized stories, and with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” they continue to innovate, potentially excluding all but the most loyal, rather than actively trying to convert newcomers to what, like “Star Wars,” has an almost religious hold on its followers.