It’s certainly not magical, but it’s a huge improvement on the last one!
Well that was unexpected. I fully thought I would rubberneck my way past The Secrets of Dumbledore and move on with my life. It was supposed to be an enjoyable trash fire, one that would exceed the magnificent awfulness of The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Imagine my surprise, then, at enjoying myself throughout most of its over 2 hour runtime. Despite my initial cynicism I felt genuinely moved at several points. It’s been a long time since a Wizarding World story had that effect on me.
The film’s heart is its real strength. In contrast to its relentlessly depressing predecessor, there’s heaps of humour and compassion throughout that makes it actually pleasant to hear these people speak. That feeling is elevated by a soaring soundtrack by James Newton Howard. You can always count on the man to deliver a spectacular score but this time was truly wonderful.
The acting is on-point throughout – in particular, Mads Mikkelsen is a perfect successor to the role of Grindelwald, oozing the charisma and menace that he’d previously brought to roles like Hannibal. Eddie Redmayne and Jude Law play off each other brilliantly, and Dan Fogler is a treat as always. Newcomers Jessica Williams and Richard Coyle as Lally and Aberforth respectively are entertaining, if limited in their roles.
The effects are also top-notch, with some exciting set pieces and fight sequences throughout. In particular, a crab salsa dance/chase in the middle was hilarious, visually impressive, and gleefully dark – a real standout moment for the film.
It’s the plot that’s the real downside of The Secrets of Dumbledore. As the title suggests, Newt and the viewer spend most of the time in the dark about what Dumbledore’s many plans are. Rather than give you clues and hints so that when the truth is revealed in the end, you feel a sense of satisfaction at the payoff, you’re given absolutely nothing. It leads to an incredibly passive – and sometimes boring – viewing experience.
There was a welcome return to focus on the fantastic beasts the series is supposed to be about. I’ll also give mild praise for finally openly acknowledging that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were lovers, rather than the cowardly skirting around their relationship thus far.
Despite that, there’s a huge amount of wheel-spinning towards the end; keep in mind that there’s two more of these films to come. The ending would have been vastly improved by a bombastic magical duel on the level of Dumbledore and Voldemort’s in Order of the Phoenix.
Instead, everything peters out to an admittedly sweet, yet anticlimactic conclusion, as the pieces simply move around on the board rather than push towards the inevitable checkmate. Honestly, if the series ended here I would’ve been… well, not happy, but content at least.
There’s very little a new generation of children will find appealing here. More so than either of the previous two films, The Secrets of Dumbledore feels made for the people that grew up on the Harry Potter books and films, rather than for a new generation.
It’s not just the relatively adult plot and tone. Things like Quidditch equipment pop up accompanied by familiar music and your eyes light up, helpless to follow your Pavlovian conditioning. I don’t believe that The Secrets of Dumbledore would stand well on its own merits, but combined with that sweet Harry Potter nostalgia, it becomes a worthy film for its particular audience.
Unfortunately, having said all of this, I wholeheartedly oppose praising or supporting anything made by JK Rowling as long she continues using her wealth and platform to demonise trans people through misinformation and fearmongering.
So ultimately I don’t recommend you go and see it. Honestly, no film is worth that price, let alone this fairly average one.