Less than fantastic
No amount of magic can save this nonsensical story about wizards and WWII
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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, in theaters April 15, is the latest film in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World franchise. The Harry Potter books and movies appealed to children, but the Fantastic Beasts movies explore adult themes—but as with previous Fantastic Beasts movies, this third installment is less than enchanting.
The Secrets of Dumbledore moves most of the action to Berlin in the years leading up to World War II. Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is the most dangerous wizard in the world, and he’s scheming how he can take control of the global wizarding government. He wants to purify the world and plans to wage war on the “muggles”—people who don’t do magic. To stop Grindelwald, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) must rely on a motley crew led by magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Dumbledore is more powerful than Grindelwald, but he can’t move against him directly because the movie needs a complication to support its contrived plot.
Part of that complication involves Dumbledore’s sexuality. In 2007, Rowling shocked fans when she announced Dumbledore was gay, a detail not hinted at in her bestselling series. This film doubles down on Dumbledore’s homosexuality, repeatedly reminding us that when he was a young man he fell in love with Grindelwald. Grindelwald has become a vicious murderer who tries to destroy the world, but Dumbledore still gives him wistful looks. These scenes feel designed to suit contemporary fads, and they undermine both Dumbledore’s character and the film’s plot.
The immersive special effects can’t save this two-hour-and-20-minute slog with its nonsensical story. The script tries to hide its lack of logic by giving Grindelwald the ability to see the future and anticipate Dumbledore’s plans.
To thwart Grindelwald, Dumbledore sends Newt’s team on a series of missions designed to sow confusion. This could have been clever, but it doesn’t go anywhere. In each instance, the mission was either pointless or could have been accomplished with a lot less effort by simply waving a wand. And how does Grindelwald benefit from his glimpses of the future? Everything he sees happens. Presumably the outcome is fixed, meaning he has knowledge of the future without the ability to change it.
Rowling intends her wizarding story about Grindelwald to mirror Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and to offer a word of caution to our contemporary world about the dangers of bigotry and the fragility of democracy. The Secrets of Dumbledore flinches from the darkness leading up to World War II, opting for a neat and tidy ending. It leaves open the possibility of a fourth movie, but it seems the filmmakers were afraid this preachy mess of a movie might be the last one.
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