The third installment into the Fantastic Beasts franchise has arrived, and so far, it’s failed to impress. Continuing the story after the events of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Secrets of Dumbledore was always going to be something of an uphill battle. The previous installment was not well received, causing many to dismiss the franchise entirely, and Warner Bros. chose in their infinite wisdom to replace Fantastic Beasts‘ villain actor for the second time.
Mads Mikkelsen appears as Grindelwald, taking over the role from Johnny Depp (who himself took over from Colin Farrell). Mikkelsen makes for a sound introduction to the film’s cast, sharing an interesting chemistry and tension with Jude Law’s Dumbledore that managed to appropriately capture the pair’s history. It’s difficult to imagine Depp managing quite the same level of subtlety with his over-the-top version of the character, making Mikkelsen’s place in the cast one of the better aspects of the film.
However, where Secrets of Dumbledore goes wrong is that it rests far too heavily on its brand recognition. Though there may be a built-in audience of Potter diehards, this doesn’t automatically equate to success, and Secrets of Dumbledore forgot the key ingredient that lent the Harry Potter its success: a good story brought to life in convincing fashion. Secrets of Dumbledore fumbles the narrative thread of previous films, feeling at once both haphazardly thrown-together and unnecessarily convoluted.
Secrets of Dumbledore starts by introducing a new magical creature – one which soon becomes the key to the entire plot, despite never having been mentioned before in the franchise – and then immediately sets off on a lazily-written, deliberately confused journey that spans half the globe and jumps so jarringly from scene to scene that it actually seems to roughly recreate the sensation of apparating. Many of the film’s attempts at levity also fall decidedly flat, with unintelligent jokes thrown in seemingly at random that are only likely to impress the most slack-jawed members of the audience.
The brainless developments of Secrets of Dumbledore‘s plot makes for a thoroughly uninteresting film. Its stakes never feel overly high, as its status as a prequel instantly dispels any genuine sense of peril, with the ultimate outcome of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship already having been disclosed in Harry Potter. By refusing to acknowledge this, Secrets of Dumbledore feels thoroughly forced throughout, with drama milked out of situations that it does nothing to establish as genuine.
Though the film’s cast deliver reasonable performances – Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen in particular are excellent – there’s just very little fun to be had in Secrets of Dumbledore‘s poorly written shlock. Its action sequences attempt to innovate the ideas of previous installments, with Dumbledore zipping from place to place throughout his duels, but overblown set-pieces with no logical reasoning behind them leave even the visual spectacle feeling unearned.
Put simply, Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore is an utter waste of time. Its poorly written story and lack of genuine character development make it by far the worst entry into the franchise so far, and it simply attempts to hide behind vague references to Harry Potter. It’s the sort of fan service that offers very little to fans, making it little more than CGI-driven fluff with practically no entertainment value.
Summary: Not only does Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore do very little for the franchise, but it doesn’t even properly live up to its own name, as the title character’s brother is the only one with an actual secret (singular, you’ll note, making it a double lie).
Highlights: Mads Mikkelsen’s performance brought layers to a previously one-dimensional villain, which serves as the film’s only improvement upon previous installments.