I was never the biggest Harry Potter fan. I really enjoyed the movies, and even spent more than a couple hours in line to see some of them when they premiered, but I have to admit to never having read the books. While that original series of films certainly wasn’t perfect, there was something that felt genuinely special about them, and it was a little sad when they drew to a close. As such, it was hard not to be excited about the idea of a prequel series. After all, even if it didn’t feature Harry, Ron, or Hermione, any trip back to the Wizarding World should be worth it, right?
Well, 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them quickly disabused me of that notion. It wasn’t bad necessarily, but J.K. Rowling’s script (her first time writing one) seemed to completely misunderstand everything that made the previous movies so beloved and therefore was largely lacking in it. 2018’s The Crimes of Grindelwald made things even worse. Rowling’s second screenplay was both convoluted and boring and while it did touch on some interesting ideas, none of them were really developed enough. Given these diminishing returns I wasn’t particularly excited for the 3rd installment, so I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by how much things have improved.
The Secrets of Dumbledore begins with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) aiding a magical creature known as a Qilin while it gives birth. As soon as the baby is born, the mother is attacked by Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and his henchmen who attempt to steal the calf. Newt tries to rescue it but is unsuccessful and so returns to the mother to comfort her as she passes from her injuries, only to discover that she had in fact given birth to twins. So he packs the remaining baby away and returns home, only to be called away again to meet with Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who needs his help battling the increasingly powerful Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). So Newt gathers his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), assistant Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), his Muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), charms teacher Lally Hicks (a postiviely delightful Jessica Williams), and wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and informs them that they will need to try to keep Grindelwald from attempting to ascend to the leadership of the Wizarding World if there is to be any hope of avoiding his desired war with the non-magical realm.
This time around screenwriter Steve Kloves, who handled script duties on all of the original Harry Potter movies, was brought in to help Rowling get things into shape and it shows. While there are still a lot of moving parts to keep track of, everything feels streamlined and moves along at a good pace. Despite being slightly longer than the other Fantastic Beasts movies this one never drags. Usual director David Yates handles all of the spectacle well if mostly unremarkably, and the cast are all game for whatever is asked of them, though they were never the problem with this series. The fears of authoritarian fascism that the previous movie brought up are brought further into the forefront here, and the parallels to recent real-world events make them feel especially chilling. However much I didn’t like the preceding chapters and how disagreeable I find some of what Rowling sends out into the Twitterverse, this turned out to be a hard movie not to enjoy. It looks like they’ve managed to capture at least some of the old magic again. ★★★★
rated pg-13 for some fantasy action / Violence.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor