The trailers attached to The Secrets of Dumbledore are, every single one, trailers that promise nostalgia. As you sit and do some self-reflection on why you’re watching an almost certainly terrible movie alone instead of embarking on one of the great many other ways you could have spent your evening, you will see breathless, fawning previews for Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World 3: Dominion, and Elvis.
This is a clue to how Warner Bros. is marketing this movie. The first Fantastic Beasts movie is for children. It was an attempt to introduce the magical world of Harry Potter to a brand new generation, and in doing so wring all that sweet sweet cash from their parents’ fists. It wasn’t good enough to do that, and the original millennial Harry Potter audience didn’t like it. As far as I can tell, this failure to predict the moviegoing public made the suits who think they know us all in and out short-circuit, and in their stupor they decided the next Fantastic Beasts would take the “SEE LOOK IT’S HARRY POTTER REMEMBER HAHA YOU LOVED IT” approach.
That movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was one of the worst movie experiences of my life. I was insulted by how bad it was. The one thing that made me feel better was that J.K. Rowling just can’t seem to shut her mouth about how terrible she thinks trans people are, and deserves to have her movie suck.
So it’s with a heavy heart that I say The Secrets of Dumbledore is not a terrible movie. This iteration takes place immediately after the last one, and sees Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) sending errand boy Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) on more quests to help him defeat the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1930’s Europe. If I explain anymore I’ll have to recap all of The Crimes of Grindelwald, and no one wants that.
The Crimes of Grindelwald was bad in multiple ways: it failed to tell a decent story in a coherent, let alone engaging way, and it didn’t even have the respect for its audience to be a movie that shows very many beasts, fantastic or otherwise. The Secrets of Dumbledore does both in a way that almost makes you forget how deeply this franchise sucks.
It would be one thing if this movie just strung a comprehensible story together and let this series, and hopefully the attempts to make Harry Potter even more of a cash cow, die a dignified death. But regrettably, this movie is thoughtful and mature, sometimes beautiful, and often very dark. It actually isa movie for millennials who grew up with Harry Potter and, being millennials, are now jaded and existentially anxious.
The magic, which has always left me unsatisfied in every Harry Potter movie, is finally exciting to watch, not surprising given that it now has to compete with superheroes. Rather than just Dragonball beams of light, wizard duels involve illusions and engagement with the setting, well-choreographed and imaginative. Newt’s “magizoology” expertise is actually relevant, and the creature design and effects are convincingly adorable and scary as needed.
Even worse though, this movie, unfortunately, devastatingly, made me care. The explicit acknowledgement of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s romance (though removed from the Chinese print of the movie, you may roll your eyes here) is long overdue. They don’t ever, like, smooch or whatever, but their lingering affection and sorrow at how things turned out is completely legible, both in how the camera treats them and in the excellent performances by Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen. With their shattered relationship as the emotional anchor, everyone else falls into place in a unified, tonally appropriate whole. Even pointless muggle Jacob Kowalski is no longer a big dumb manbaby—it no longer stretches credibility to think that the impossibly beautiful Alison Sudol might love him.
Warner Bros. and J.K. really painted themselves into a corner here. The studio chased all potential audiences away with their respectively mediocre and appalling first two films, and the author chased away nostalgic millennials who might have wanted to see these movies succeed were it not for her baffling transphobia doubledowns.
This is a franchise borne out of cynicism, to draw out a beloved story that is nevertheless already years past its expiration date, feeding on it like a parasite until it’s all shriveled and dry like an old sweet potato. I had kind of hoped this would be the one that finally let it rest, since with this being the third movie, the Fantastic Beasts franchise is already bloated. But the ultimate goal, apparently, is FIVE. Five movies. That means two more of these.
I hate how much I’m looking forward to them.
7/10, -1 for weirdly cutting out Katherine Waterston’s character, not sure what that’s about. -2 purely for association with the previous two movies.