The decision to make a series of prequels to the beloved Harry Potter series was one of the biggest no brainers in the history of pop culture. Unfortunately, the story that started with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them became a bit muddied when wizard politics and legacy characters entered the picture. After two films of the proposed five-movie cycle, author J.K. Rowling’s expansion of her Wizarding World seemed confused as to what it really wanted to do. That mayhem is somewhat dialed down in the third installment, David Yates' Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, which manages to be the franchise’s best prequel yet.
Still balancing the narratives of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), the latest Fantastic Beasts chapter delves further into the heights and depths of magical power. As Scamander and Dumbledore continue to head up the side of good, the evil forces under Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) continue to work towards destabilizing the world of wizards and Muggles. With Grindelwald having a Dumbledore of his own in his thrall – the man who used to be known as Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller) – the threat of impending magical conflict grows.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore goes a long way towards righting the ship when it comes to the mixed bag of Wizarding World history. Addressing several of the flaws that presented themselves in the first movie, as well as its sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, the new film's script written by J.K. Rowling and newly returned co-writer Steve Kloves heads back in the direction of whimsy and danger that the Harry Potter films orchestrated. It couldn’t have happened a moment too soon.
While it doesn’t totally correct the errors of The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Secrets of Dumbledore brings the feelings of magic, adventure, and fun back to the Fantastic Beasts series.
To honor just how much of an upgrade Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is, we need to remember The Crimes of Grindelwald. A convenient title for what happens to be the lowest point of the series so far, that 2018 sequel seemed to forget a key piece of its own title. The titular Fantastic Beasts took a backseat to the intrigue of wizarding social politics – and while the combination of these elements coexisted better in the first film, they absolutely bottomed out in the second.
In his seventh Wizarding World film since 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, David Yates juggles both beasts and wizards rather well almost immediately. Opening with a sequence featuring Dumbledore and Grindelwald having a chat you’d expect between Professor X and Magneto in the X-Men series, it isn’t long before we jump to Newt Scamander protecting a sacred, mysterious magical creature. Both sides of the board are set up quickly and effectively in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and the film that unfolds moves swiftly while weaving through both halves effortlessly.
Most importantly, the adventurous fun you’d hope for from a movie with Fantastic Beasts in the title is restored. Magic battles are dialed down a bit when compared to The Crimes of Grindelwald’s attempt at an all out ending, but on the plus side, the stakes are much clearer this time around. Fun and warmth return as well, especially through Jude Law’s portrayal of Dumbledore. This time out, Law is even more comfortable in the role, and thus the secrets we learn in our latest chapter are even more effective revelations.
Once again, co-writer/Harry Potter vet Steve Kloves proves he is the secret sauce to the Wizarding World’s cinematic universe.
Out of the entire Wizarding World canon, between the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts stories, writer Steve Kloves’ pen has only been absent from three entries. Looking back at the results for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as the first two Beasts films, it’s become readily apparent yet again that Kloves is the secret sauce to adapting and crafting J.K. Rowling’s world for the big screen.
In Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, the grave nature of all that’s come before isn’t ignored in favor of whimsy. At the same time, beasts like Teddy the Niffler and Pickett the Bowtruckle are properly built into the twists and turns of this latest story. So while Newt and his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) are engaged in a life or death escape from a tight spot involving a Manticore, those beasts in question are assisting in their own way.
As any good writer does when brought into a franchise midstream, Steve Kloves doesn’t try to overwrite or contradict anything J.K. Rowling might have set up in previous movies. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore enhances the past, twists and all, and adds new wrinkles to the fabric of this in-process universe. Perhaps the greatest decision in that respect was for Kloves to bring back Albus Dumbledore’s estranged brother Abelforth (Richard Coyle), as his role in the titular mystery goes a long way towards grounding some of the more fantastical twists of the past.
Character has become more important under the creative regime that rules this movie. Returning figures like Theseus Scamander get to be more charming and snarky, while also maintaining their sense of authority. Plus, additions like Professor Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams) and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) sparkle as personalities that fit the Fantastic Beasts world while also pushing the plot along. More is actually merrier in this movie, especially in the ranks of Dumbledore’s army.
After a rocky start, The Secrets of Dumbledore feels like it’s a sign that the Fantastic Beasts films are only going to get better from here.
An argument could be made that if Harry Potter fans really wanted to properly experience the Fantastic Beasts franchise, all they’d need to do is skip the previous two movies. Having a deeper knowledge of those entries is an advantage for obvious reasons, but it also doesn’t feel required given how well Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore catches you up. So if you’re looking to introduce anyone to the series and they’re afraid that missing the “required reading” will keep them in the dark, you can put their mind at ease.
Should the Fantastic Beasts saga continue for its remaining two films as planned, things should only get better from this point out. That is, if Steve Kloves’ writing talents can be secured for those future installments. Weaving together the wizarding war we know is coming into a story of forgiveness, love, and protection of the beasts with which we coexist, Kloves massively corrects the course of the Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
Franchise expansion is an easy decision to make, but an even harder experience to turn into a fitting continuation. Fantastic Beasts may be the latest franchise to learn that lesson the hard way, but it’s also starting to look like a prime example of what happens when creators learn from their mistakes. All that’s left now is for Harry Potter fans to experience the results for themselves, in order to decide whether they deem these films worthy of continuation or in need of a swift, decisive finale.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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