Film review: ‘FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

After the zeitgeist-shaping triumph of the Harry Potter films, the Fantastic Beasts movies, which are essentially Potter prequels, have been a major disappointment. Whereas the Potter films brimmed with invention and the youthful energy of their extremely likeable teen cast, the Beast movies have been flat, dull, grey-brown CGI–drenched slabs with confusing plots and characters that are often boring or even irritating.

Set in the 1930’s and often in the US, they have also been too detached from the Potter world to draw directly on their appeal. As the series moves forward in time and begins to connect with some of the events that shaped the Potter world, it’s hoped the Beast films will become more vital. On the strength of the latest instalment, the 142 minute long The Secrets of Dumbledore, though, that’s not happening. Despite the presence of Hogwart’s much-loved future headmaster (played here, as in the last film, by Jude law) this film is as much of a mess as the others.

The film continues the battle between the benevolent Dumbledore and his former lover, the nefarious Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen replacing Johnny Depp). Both had previously sought to assert magical domination over the muggle (i.e. non magic) world but Dumbledore saw the error of their megalomaniacal plan. Grindelwald, however, still desperately wants to become a wizard dictator and to extinguish the pesky muggle population.

His plan and ascension (through election) to possible leader of the magical world is compared with the rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany in the 1930’s. Beyond the Albert Speer-esque production design and cheering, banner waving crowds of Grindelwald supporters, though, the film unfortunately doesn’t attempt to explore the roots or consequences of fascism in any depth.

One of the biggest problems with the Beast movies is that many of the characters simply don’t work very well. The central figure across the franchise, magical zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is lifeless and aside from his odd resemblance to a member of Split Enz from 1981, an uninteresting figure.  Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, who is once again featured way too much, is an irritating pastiche of a loud, wisecracking New Yorker.

Fortunately, Jude Law conveys some of the intellect and dignity we associate with Dumbledore but it’s still difficult to imagine this younger version eventually becoming the wonderful character Michael Gambon created in the Potter movies.  Mads Mikkelson is a fine choice for Grindelwald as he convincingly captures the character’s destructive political ambition and brooding bitterness toward muggles.  Apart from him, the most memorable characters in this film are a computer-generated stick insect and platypus.

Aesthetically, this film, like its predecessors, is murky and artificial looking with much of it seemingly conjured on a computer. When it actually employs physical locations, the film does feature some impressive art direction in its recreation of 1930’s Art Deco. It also contains a few elaborate wizard battles although these lack the excitement and plot relevance of those in the Potter movies. Similarly, the attempts at extracting emotion from subplots involving romantic and family connections have no impact and feel hollow.

Unfortunately, the Fantastic Beast films have been the Potter world’s equivalent of the infamous Star Wars prequels.

Nick’s rating:    1/2

Genre: Fantasy/ Action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): David Yates.

Release date: 7th Apr 2022.

Running time: 142 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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