There was a time when we eagerly waited a new Harry Potter movie. Although many of us were well aware of what we would get, we were still enthralled and excited as watching many wondrous details of the fantasy world surrounding Harry Potter and his friends, and we all got enough satisfaction around the time when we finally reached to the final Harry Potter film.
In contrast, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016), which is the first entry in the spin-off series from the author of Harry Potter novels, did not impress me enough, and its following sequel “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (2018) let us down more without showing anything particularly new for us. I wish the series focused more on those numerous fantastic animals handled by its nerdy hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), but, unfortunately, it became more like the prequel series explaining the past of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” continues this disappointing trend without enough fantastic elements for us.
The story begins at the point not long after the finale of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, and it mainly revolves around the increasingly volatile political situation surrounding the upcoming election for the new leader of the International Federation of Wizards. While two prominent candidates have closely competed with each other, Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, who thankfully replaces Johnny Depp), an evil wizard who has tried to take over the magic world, is planning to interfere with the election, and his plan is involved with a certain rare Chinese magical creature named “Qilin” (It is pronounced as “chilln”, by the way).
Anyway, Dumbledore, who was once very close to Grindelwald as shown from the opening conversation scene between them (I heard that the studio made some change on this scene to tone down their homosexual relationship for the Chinese market – shame on you!), quickly assembles several figures who can help his plan for stopping Grindelwald, and Scamander is one of them. Although he is not so sure about what he can do for Dumbledore, he is still ready to do whatever is ordered by Dumbledore, and so is Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a plain New York City baker who has been involved with Scamander since their accidental encounter in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”.
Because Grindelwald can foresee every step of theirs, Dumbledore and his folks must be as discreet as possible. One particular member must be quite cautious as seemingly volunteering to join Grindelwald’s clan, and there is a little poignant moment when this figure lets Grindelwald erase a certain painful personal memory as planned in advance.
Meanwhile, Scamander and his friends/allies bounce from one spot to another as instructed by Dumbledore, and director David Yates and his crew members have some fun with decorating the screen with nice period mood and details. Like its two predecessors, the movie is packed with art deco style to be cherished, and the climactic part unfolded in a certain small Asian country provides extra flavor to the overall picture.
However, the movie still lacks the enchanting qualities of Harry Potter films, and it even does not reach to the level of curiosity and wonder glimpsed in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Although I did not like that film enough, I was occasionally amused and entertained by all those various magical creatures inside Scamander’s little cozy zoo which looks like a mere old suitcase on the surface, and that is why I was disappointed to see that “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” does not have many magical creatures in comparison. Yes, it is still a delight to see Scamander’s two certain creature friends again, but, besides Qilin and a certain big ugly monster living in a dark and perilous dungeon, that is all we can get here.
The main cast members of the film do their best with the rather rote materials given to them, though many of them are under-utilized on the whole. While he is supposed to be the center of the series, Eddie Redmayne is somehow pushed aside from time to time as the movie is busy with juggling so many other characters in the story, and I hope that he will regain the center in whatever will come next. Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen are effective as two opposing figures who still have emotional issues to be resolved in one way another, and Dan Fogler, who once appeared with Mikkelsen a bit in TV drama series “Hannibal”, provides some lightweight moments as required. While the near absence of Katherine Waterston, who brought some spirit to the previous two films, is often glaring throughout the film, Victoria Yeates and Jessica Williams fill the hole to some degree as two substantial female characters in the story, and Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Ezra Miller dutifully fill their familiar respective spots as demanded, though it is troubling to see Miller on the screen due to his recent real-life problems outside the movie.
In conclusion, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a sort of improvement over “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, but it is still one or two steps below “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Because I gave the first film 2.5 stars while giving the second film 2 stars, I gave “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” only 2 stars, but you will probably be less bored if you have been more enthusiastic about the series than I have, so I will simply let you decide whether you will spend your 2.5 hour on it.