A vast army of Potterheads is praying for fan-friendly revelations alongside incredible critters in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the long-awaited, star-switched third entry in the Wizarding World prequel saga. So without spoilers, let’s just say it really earns that teasing title, and that the series gains some significant emotional heft. Signature director David Yates offers a glossy, globetrotting quest that sensibly puts Jude Law’s troubled, charismatic Dumbledore front and centre.
This time out, he’s wrestling openly with his historic relationship with Muggle-warmonger Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), who’s now threatening the wizard-leadership elections with a power grab. Unable to fight his former friend because of a blood charm, Dumbledore playfully whips Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his useful if overcrowded band from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - wizard-cop Theseus (Callum Turner), charms professor Lally (Jessica Williams), undercover expert Yusuf (William Ladylam), beast-helper Bunty (Victoria Yeates) and baker Jacob (Dan Fogler) – off to Berlin and breathtaking Bhutan, to thwart Grindelwald’s plan.
Whether rabble-rousing among German wizards, or being coolly barbaric with beasts, Mads Mikkelsen brings a chilling, understated ruthlessness (and a hint of Hannibal) to Grindelwald, becoming the perfect successor to Johnny Depp’s white-haired whisperer. But the team-tackles-worst-wizard storyline is starting to feel over-familiar, and not just from 2018’s Crimes of Grindelwald. Eddie Redmayne’s twitchy Newt now resembles a proxy Harry Potter, repeatedly sent by Dumbledore to fight a world-threatening villain.
Granted, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore makes its own powerful, distinctive Berlin-set parallels between Grindelwald’s Muggle-crushing manifesto and the Nazis’ rise to power. But the film also disappointingly dials down the visual wonder and the animal set-pieces. Bar the plot-central Qilin (an enchanting kind of dragon-Bambi truth-seeker), and cute help from old faves Pickett and the Niffler, the beasts take a backseat. The street-shaking CGI-crammed action showdowns are similarly pared back, though there’s a nifty hold-your-breath, Indiana Jones-style prison cavern escape that shows off Newt’s magizoological prowess.
"Answers are given" was J.K. Rowling’s promise for this movie, and it’s great to finally see satisfying plot progress as orphan Credence’s (Ezra Miller) piercing origin story, and one long-running romance, wrap up with real heart. There’s also a momentous family-movie milestone included here that deserves genuine celebration. But despite the well-honed wizarding credentials of Yates and co-scripters Steve Kloves and Rowling, the series still can’t seem to settle on a hero. Let’s hope that the prospective next two helpings can unravel whether it’s Newt’s beast-fuelled journey or Dumbledore’s quest with which we’re hitching a ride.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore reaches cinemas April 8. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way soon.