REVIEW: ‘Secrets of Dumbledore’ entertains, but is far too disjointed

This new “Fantastic Beasts” movie just reminds me the last “Harry Potter” came out more than 10 years ago, when I was still in college. Where does time go?

While there’s been some time since “Harry Potter” ended, though, the Wizarding World is carrying on. The latest franchise installment is the third entry in the “Fantastic Beasts” saga, with Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) still posing a threat to the magic nations.

In response to the Grindelwald threat, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits a team including beasts expert Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), American charms professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), Scamander’s brother Theseus who’s an elite dark wizard catcher and WWI veteran Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Dumbledore has to rely on this team, as there’s a spell preventing him from battling Grindelwald directly.

Because of a development in the opening scene, Grindelwald has the ability to have visions of the future, giving him an advantage in the film’s conflict. To overcome the issue, Dumbledore’s assembled group have to act in more spontaneous ways.

The result is a fantasy action film that on a basic level, entertains, but can be hard to follow. The film’s characters have to take random actions to throw Grindelwald off track, but their schemes never come together in a grand way.

It’s fine to keep an audience guessing, but those guesses should be met with things coming together nicely in the final act. A film that did this well was 2007’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which had a lot of double crossings and characters having their own motivations, yet it turned out in the end that the protagonists had set themselves up with a promising plan.

Had the actions of Dumbledore’s team been a bit more coherent or ultimately lead up to something where a viewer thinks ‘ah ha,’ it would have been more satisfying. Instead, the developments often feel disjointed and don’t collectively amount to much.

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

At the very least the multiple action set pieces are entertaining to watch. A moment where Newt and his brother have to escape a dangerous location is a compelling scene, for example.

Director David Yates, who directed four of the “Harry Potter” movies and the other two “Fantastic Beasts” knows how to bring the magical world to life quite well and that’s true again here. Sequences with spells bring excitement to the screen and can keep a viewer interested.

Where “Secrets” really manages to win an audience over is its characters in leadership roles. Dumbledore and Grindelwald are rather interesting characters, with a major love hate relationship between them.

It’s a dynamic reminiscent of Professor X and Magneto of the “X-Men” franchise. Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a romantic relationship in the past, they still seem to hold a respect for each other in the present, but are forced to plot against each other to achieve the future they want.

Watching that play out is captivating, especially with Law and Mikkelsen both giving strong performances.

The same can’t be said about the other characters on screen. In fact, the main protagonist of this franchise, Newt, remains the weakest link. The character just remains timid and awkward, with little to make his character interesting to follow.

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While it’s true that being timid is part of his personality, it’s also a fact that there’s been very little growth. Compare this to Steve Rogers in “The Avengers.” In the first, Captain America acted like a fish out of water, with a personality right out of the 40s. But the character catches up with the times and is more outgoing by “Endgame,” while still keeping his good heartedness.

Even the “Harry Potter” world has a good example of a character becoming a more confident, strong-willed person in Neville Longbottom, who went from a shy, bumbling kid to one of the founding members of Dumbledore’s Army and the one to decapitate Voldemort’s snake. Newt, meanwhile, has not grown or changed at all, as if he’s running in place.

It’s also questionable why these films keep bringing back the non-magic character Jacob when he can’t contribute much. If he’s not going to gain magic skills, have him do meaningful things in other ways.

In “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Sokka was still an important member of the team despite being a non-bender. Another example is Batman being non-super powered in “Justice League”and still kicking ass. It should be possible to give Jacob some valuable skill in this case since he is a muggle.

Simply put, it’s not a good sign when the new characters completely overshadow the two established protagonists.

This “Fantastic Beasts” has just enough mileage from its entertainment value and the dynamic between Dumbledore and Grindelwald to be a film worth checking out. It’s a fine, middle of the road action film with fantasy elements, but it has a lot holding it back from being anything more. 3 out of 5. 

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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