A Mature Return to Hogwarts

Mads Mikkelsen takes over the reins of villainous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in a mostly magical return to Hogwarts. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore pits the two greatest wizards of their time in a subterfuge-filled battle to control the Ministry of Magic. They both assemble loyal followers in a cat and mouse game of deception. Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) plays a key role. But to the delight of Harry Potter fans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) is the star of this film. His family secrets and past indiscretions are laid bare in a plot tailored to the ardent Wizarding World faithful.

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Set in the late thirties, the birth of an important magical creature raises the stakes for Gellert Grindelwald. Wizards everywhere will soon choose a new Minister of Magic. A sworn enemy of the Ministry and a hunted criminal, Grindelwald sends his tortured lieutenant, Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), to do his dirty work. Dumbledore and Grindelwald cannot raise wands against each other. Lovers in their youth, they swore a magical blood bond together.

Dumbledore musters a unique team to get past this significant obstacle. Even worse, Grindelwald has achieved an ability to see relevant future events. He’ll be able to thwart any attack by Dumbledore. The key to Dumbledore’s plan is separate missions. No one, in the first incarnation of Dumbledore’s Army, will know what the others are doing. Newt recruits his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), and on Dumbledore’s insistence, a dear old friend. Professor Hicks (Jessica Williams), a Hogwarts teacher with exceptional defense against the dark arts skills, is sent to collect the muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Whose heart still aches for his beloved Queenie Goldstein (Allison Sudol), a frightened but important tool for Grindelwald. Wands clash and past sins are laid bare as the vote for the future looms in the mountains of Bhutan.

The Plot of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

To say there’s a lot going on here is an understatement. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore has an extremely complex plot. The supporting characters are essentially pawns in a tactical chess match between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. They also have subplots that are vital to the climax. Screenwriters J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves don’t take any time for the uninitiated. Harry Potter neophytes will be clueless to what’s happening. The filmmakers assume you’ve seen every Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts film. I’m a die-hard Potter fan and must admit to being somewhat perplexed at certain points. You really have to pay attention. The narrative rolls like the Hogwarts Express on a speed run.

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The relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is explored without reservations. Dumbledore has been previously alluded to as homosexual. There are no visually intimate scenes. But the leads frankly discuss their heated romance. Grindelwald is an ex-boyfriend that went too far. Their bond remains strong. Dumbledore knows he’s the only wizard capable of defeating him. That conflict is juxtaposed with the unconditional love between Jacob and Queenie. She must hide her true feelings from Grindelwald’s wrath; while Jacob will stop at nothing to get her back. These are the best parts of the film. They introduce mature and sophisticated themes to the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

Production Design, Cinematography, and Visual Effects

Warner Bros

The production design, cinematography, and visual effects are stunning. Director David Yates, in his seventh Wizarding World film, continues to helm the ship with a steady hand. The duals and wand battles are the best to date. They have a more visceral and urgent feel. This was a chief issue I had with the first two Fantastic Beasts films. The wand action looked like sticks shooting neon lights. Yates sharpens the critical showdowns. Dumbledore versus Grindelwald does not disappoint.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is a vast improvement over The Crimes of Grindelwald. Mads Mikkelsen brings a cold calculation and reserved anger to the character. He plays Grindelwald with a nuance that Johnny Depp lacked in his interpretation. Rowling and Kloves give the character more dramatic heft. They should have added more explanatory exposition to bridge knowledge gaps. There may be varying levels of confusion depending on your grasp of Harry Potter lore. Fans who read the books will be better served in this regard.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a production of Heyday Films and Warner Bros. It will have an April 15th theatrical release from Warner Bros.

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Julian Roman
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Julian Roman has been with Movieweb for nearly twenty years. An avid film buff, he feels lucky to have interviewed and written extensively about Hollywood’s greatest talents. In his spare time he plays guitar, treasures good company, and always seeks new adventures.

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