“Fantastic Beasts – The Secrets of Dumbledore,” is the third, in a potential five series arc. Although this series to date receives consistently mixed reviews, the escapism of this stunning universe has \ firmly captured me within its embrace. The visual effects of the latest instalment of the franchise are on another level, and while the plot and characterisation leave room for improvement, the costume & production design is perfection – transporting the viewer to another time. Read on for our full review.
I never successfully entered the Harry Potter universe. I tried, I really did, but for reasons I can’t explain, I was unable to lose myself in the fantasy. Possibly because it was aimed at a younger audience, or perhaps, due to the fact I watched the movies several years after they aired, I found the special effects somewhat dated. Not so, with Fantastic Beasts. From the moment I started watching the new franchise from JK Rowling, I was captivated by the characters, the costumes and most importantly the Fantastic Beasts.
The Latest Instalment
To begin, allow me a quick recap of the most recent instalment from the franchise. ‘The Secrets of Dumbledore,’ opens in a diner, where, to the passerby, a seemingly ordinary encounter is taking place. Two healthy, handsome men, are having what is a very ordinary conversation. But NOT so, people. For the first time in the Harry Potter Universe, two same-sex characters are openly admitting they were in a homosexual relationship, and it’s beautiful to watch.
Unspoken longing and regret for a love that cannot be, is played in a way that is nuanced and delicate, acted to perfection by the iconic Jude Law (Dumbledore), and relative newcomer to the Hollywood screen, Mads Mikkelson (an excellently recast Grindelwald).
Following a rather exposition-heavy second movie (The Crimes of Grindelwald), the third film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise focuses on a covert operation to prevent Grindelwald from taking control of the wizarding world and overthrowing the muggle realm.
Three years have passed since the former movie. In a sequence of events that seems hasty (for even the most avid audience member), Grindelwald is excused for his prior crimes. Next, he is put forward as a prime candidate for the upcoming elections of Head of the International Confederation of Wizards. Primarily set in 1930s, the film takes great liberties in its comparison to a rising Nazi Germany pre-world war II.
As Dumbledore is unable to move against Grindelwald due to an unbreakable blood vow (made when they were young and in love), he amasses a team of unlikely heroes to help. This includes Newt, Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Newt’s assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates), Queenie’s muggle love, Jacob (Dan Fogler, the main comic relief), and fantastic newcomer and potential Theseus love interest, Hogwart’s professor, Lally Hicks. The French wizard, Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), half-brother of Leta Lestrange, is another Dumbledore recruit but disappears for the bulk of the movie. And his arc, although heartfelt, is one of the many extraneous subplots the film could have lived without.
*WARNING* – MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
The true magic of the Fantastic Beasts series is the mythical creatures peppered throughout each film. In one of the opening scenes, Newt is trying to rescue a qilin (pronounced chillin), a small deer-like mythical creature, said to be so honest he can see inside a person’s heart, and is a major plot point in the third instalment.
What follows is a stunning visual display as Newt helps the female qilin birth her young, before being attacked by Credence Barebone, and Grimwald’s various henchmen. They have an epic standoff in the forest, involving multiple flashes of light, before Newt nearly drowns. He saves one qilin, and collapses, before another of his beasts emerges from his epic suitcase to aid him. The animal, which I can’t name, holds onto him, puffing itself up into a hot air balloon before transforming into a dragon-like bird and carrying him to safety. The sequence is mesmerising.
During a scene further along in the movie, Newt saves his brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) from a dungeon tower with multiple cells, and a pit that possibly descends to hell (think jabba the hut in star wars). As Newt reaches Theseus, innumerable skrewts appear, (creatures who resemble scorpions), and descend upon the wizards, akin to a small vicious army. The scene manages to be simultaneously terrifying and absurdly funny, as the audience watches Newt and Theseus move comically among the creatures, imitating their dance routine to escape with their lives.
Bordering on Slapstick
Accompanied constantly by his pet bowtruckle, Pickett and niffler, Teddy, Newt and his delightful menagerie have several slapstick moments that border on the Chaplinesque; as the small beasts save their well-intentioned, but hapless master on numerous occasions. On a more sombre note, the phoenix who appeared at the end of the second film, is a constant presence throughout, accompanying Credence like a black cloud that won’t lift.
The flawless production design from Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont, immerses its viewers within the magical world of wizardry. In line with the earlier films in the series, Craig’s production design is lit in sombre tones, that resemble an oil painting, marking a true period piece.
A Global Journey
It moves seamlessly from Hogwart’s to an ‘orient express’ style train journey, and on to Jacob’s Brooklyn bakery, and then the streets of 1930s Berlin before ending at an election summit, filmed on location in the mountains of Bhutan, the wizarding world is much expanded in this globe-trotting epic.
Oscar-winning costume designer, Colleen Atwood, once again cut no corners with the third instalment of the franchise. What really took my breath away was the diversity of costumes worn by the various tribes of wizards in the final scenes filmed in Bhutan.
It Leaves You Wanting More
Although there is so much right about the third instalment of the series, there are also large sections that left me wanting more. There were many unimportant subplots involving minor characters (Newt’s assistant, Bunty and Karma) which left little room to develop major character arcs. At the end of Fantastic Beasts 2, The Crimes of Grindelwald, we are drawn into the harrowing plight of Credence Barebone (Aurelius Dumbledore). We see the internal conflict both he and Queenie Goldstein would face in choosing to follow Grindelwald. This is touched on so briefly in Fantastic Beasts 3 that you barely have time to digest it.
One of the major reveals in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is that Credence is actually the long-lost son of Aberforth Dumbledore (Dumbledore’s brother). This results from a brief fling with a town girl. The unnamed girl and her child were sent away — although the film doesn’t explain why. We watch Credence visibly whither before our eyes throughout the film, with little to no explanation of what’s going on. And although the potential of his power is built up continuously throughout the franchise, it ultimately amounts to nothing at the climax of the third film. I found Credence by far the most intriguing character throughout the series, and was disappointed by the follow-through.
Tina Goldstein, Newt’s awkward love interest, makes only a brief cameo at the end of the film. What happened between her and Newt? This may have been more due to scheduling conflicts, given the constant delays plaguing the film, but it didn’t sit well with the plot line. Far too much time was devoted to Newt’s assistant gazing at him longingly in an unreciprocated way.
The Main Issue? Plotholes
The main issue I had with the plot was with the Dumbledore’s story itself. We learn at the beginning of the film that he was in love with Grimwald. This is a ground-breaking revelation for a series such as this one, but it’s never touched on again. We learn that his brother fathered a child who was snatched away from him, and that their sister died, overtaken by her own dark magic.
All these revelatory secrets were enough for a plotline within themselves; as is the movie’s title, “The Secret’s of Dumbledore.” However, as is so often the case with big Hollywood blockbusters, they were reduced to throw-away lines. This is in favour of advancing the action, and the ‘big bad’ storyline. I would have loved a few scenes exploring how broken Dumbledore’s character was as a result of these harrowing incidents.
Overall, despite some misgivings, I remained thoroughly enchanted by The Fantastic Beasts – Secrets of Dumbledore. I highly recommend watching it on the big screen while you still have the chance.
Until then, check out the official trailer below:
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