After the Harry Potter-related excitement of HBO Max's Return to Hogwarts special earlier this year, the Wizarding World now gets special focus again with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the third installment in Warner Bros.' polarizing prequel series. There has been much debate over whether this movie can repair what was broken by 2018's The Crimes of Grindelwald, the worst-received Wizarding World movie yet. While fan consensus is ultimately what matters for a movie like this, it is safe to say that The Secrets of Dumbledore is a step up from the previous film. It is aided by a more exhilarating plot and wondrous magic, yet it doesn't entirely fix all the issues from its predecessor. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a step in the right direction for this meandering franchise, though it still has a lot of work ahead.
Set some time after the previous movie, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) has scored a major advantage in his crusade to take over the Wizarding World. Thanks to an extremely rare and valuable creature known as a qilin, Grindelwald has received the ability to see the future. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), still pondering how to solve his blood pact problem, assembles a motley team led by magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to carry out a necessary blow against Grindelwald's steadily building power. This means being as unpredictable as possible, even as Grindelwald always appears to be one step ahead.
In keeping with the most recent Wizarding World movies, David Yates directs. Whereas The Crimes of Grindelwald was solely written by author J.K. Rowling, The Secrets of Dumbledore turns to Steve Kloves, the man behind all the Harry Potter movies, to lend a hand with the script. The result is something that reignites some interest in what Fantastic Beasts has to offer, but doesn't entirely right the ship for the planned final two installments. Plot-wise, The Secrets of Dumbledore is a far livelier adventure than the previous movie. Viewers are plunged right into Dumbledore's scheme, which brings back familiar faces from the previous films, like Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger) and Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner). Because of the characters' need to keep their immediate moves a secret from Grindelwald's all-seeing eyes, Kloves and Rowling opted to keep most parts of the grand plan a secret from the audience as well. Though this makes for some fun as The Secrets of Dumbledore gradually brings it all together, it can make for some muddled moments.
Despite that, Yates still keeps the overall proceedings bustling with a sizable dose of magic. From intriguing new locations, all impressively rendered by production designers Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont, to the thrilling VFX spectacles that are wizard duels, this is an installment that really leans into the fantasy of it all. The visuals are standouts. The title Fantastic Beasts isn't misleading, as there are a couple of fun additions to the magical menagerie the franchise has going; one memorable sequence involving Newt, Theseus, and unsettling crab-like creatures really showcases the appeal of the Fantastic Beasts side of this story. And yet, there is little question that the brewing battle against Grindelwald - and his deep history with Dumbledore - is what the series is truly fascinated with at this point.
And that is still where The Secrets of Dumbledore stumbles. This movie is meant to be the midpoint in a five-film franchise. However, by the time the credits roll, one might be hard pressed to decide if anything major has actually been achieved. There is a sense that, save for perhaps one major development, Dumbledore and the other heroes end right where they began in Fantastic Beasts 3. The stakes are both high and low. Much of the action in this movie hinges on a wizarding election, something that, for being as important as it evidently is, could have used way more explanation. Instead, the early portion of The Secrets of Dumbledore is focused on the initial steps Newt and the others must take in their grand plan against Grindelwald. They are fun to witness, but with the bigger picture fractured because of Dumbledore's determination to hide everything from Grindelwald, they can seem pointless in the long run. At its core, though, the biggest issue facing Fantastic Beasts remains its characters. Law is still an excellent young Dumbledore, and he comes across as the most fully-formed person; that's not surprising considering how Dumbledore came from Harry Potter.
As the franchise's supposed lead, Redmayne fits the part of Newt like a glove, and he does get some great moments that show his strengths when it comes to those titular beasts. Mikkelsen has the tricky task of stepping into the Grindelwald role amid much real-life controversy, and he smartly avoids mimicking Johnny Depp's portrayal. Instead, his Grindelwald is charismatic and menacing, and his chemistry with Law works (The Secrets of Dumbledore does finally dig a bit into the romantic side of Albus' bond with Grindelwald, though it remains to be seen if it will appease fans). Outside of that core trio, though, the Fantastic Beasts ensemble is left without much development for their characters. Everyone gets to play out some fun moments, with Folger and Jessica Williams being the standouts, but their characters lack depth. That makes it hard to truly invest in them, particularly if the motivations of some (like Alison Sudol's Queenie) remain frustratingly muddled. And yes, Katherine Waterston is in The Secrets of Dumbledore, but her part as Tina Goldstein is so small that one has to question what led to that. It's a disappointing turn for the character who should be the franchise's female lead.
So, where does this leave Fantastic Beasts? It is definitely in a better position than it was in 2018, and in some ways, it has managed to justify its existence a little bit more. Die-hard fans of Harry Potter will likely find themselves entranced by the various references in The Secrets of Dumbledore, and there may even be some casual viewers who are turned back on to the franchise after this installment. However, this is still a flawed series, and considering how there are two more movies ahead, it isn't yet clear if it can stick the landing. The Secrets of Dumbledore holds positives and negatives alike, and that makes for an entertaining, but slightly unsatisfying viewing experience. There is magic to be found, though, and perhaps that is all that matters.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore debuts in theaters on Friday, April 15. It is 142 minutes long and rated PG-13 for some fantasy action/violence.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)Release date: Apr 15, 2022