After the unenthusiastic reception of The Crimes of Grindelwald, Warner Bros. knew they had to do something different for the third part of the Fantastic Beasts series. Something different that would appeal back to the casual fans of the Wizarding World: that something different is Fantastic Beasts – The Secrets of Dumbledore.
Warner Bros. knew that J.K. Rowling’s writing (more suited to books than film) was not something that would appeal to the general movie-going public, and so they decided to make (together with Steve Kloves) a film with all the necessary ingredients for the average movie-goer to enjoy. Secrets of Dumbledore is a simpler film than its predecessor, but no less enjoyable for that. On the contrary: simplicity is perhaps its strongest point, going at a fast pace all throughout the movie.
The main plot and conflict is presented in the first scenes, without too many twists and turns. From that moment we embark on an adventure with a young Albus Dumbledore (played by a Jude Law who knows how to do it very well) and his team that will help him face a Grindelwald he himself can’t fight. As if it were a bank robbery movie, we see a formula that has been successful on the big screen before: recruiting, planning and executing a plan against a more powerful entity (sometimes a bank, this time a government).
As well as returning to familiar locations in the Wizarding World (such as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade), we see new places such as the German Ministry of Magic, and new characters. Lally Hicks (played by Jessica Williams) has a high chance of becoming a fan favourite, while Mads Mikkelsen’s new version of Gellert Grindelwald could be considered a new character as he is so different from the Grindelwald we already knew. Also joining the cast are Richard Coyle as a less refined Dumbledore than his brother, and Oliver Masucci as Anton Vogel: the current Supreme Mugwump who seems to be hiding something. The rest of the cast consists of the already familiar Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, and Callum Turner among others, who stand out even more this time than in the previous films.
The creatures this time are not too many but their role is paramount to the story: the Qilin, a crucial beast from the first to the last scene; the manticores, in what is possibly one of the most visceral scenes of the saga; and even Pickett the bowtruckle and Ted the Niffler, now being more useful allies of Newt. All of these beasts (and the rest too) are very well achieved in visual terms.
Perhaps the high point of the film (and we are getting repetitive) is the action and the constant speed, which will be what the general public will enjoy most. There is no respite throughout the film: short dialogue and constant progress of the plot. In turn, this is also perhaps the strongest proof that it was not written entirely by J.K. Rowling, but with the help of Steve Kloves. The film, while entertaining, feels like the end product of hours of marketing research: giving the audience exactly what they want, even if that goes a little against the philosophy of the Wizarding World.
But still, something has been achieved that will make people leave the cinema happy with what they’ve just seen (except, of course, those obsessive fans of the World of Harry Potter). With two good scenes before the opening titles (a great slow conversation to tease out the main character’s inner conflict and a Harry Potter-esque Death Eater chase), you know that The Secrets of Dumbledore is likely to be one of those films that years later, if you find it on TV, you’ll leave it on to watch again.
Is this the last film of the series? The answer in the next section (beware of spoilers!)
The film answers perhaps the biggest question of the previous film: who is Credence? But in doing so in such a simple way it also raises another question: was it worth all the mystery beforehand? What was the point of the whole Lestrange plot if the resolution was so simple? One can’t help but wonder if in fact the original resolution was different and this version was chosen so as not to further complicate the plot.
But even so, this film raises other questions, perhaps not so much on a plot level but on a Wizarding World level. The first of these comes from one of the elements most present throughout the film: the Mirror Dimension, or the Nightmare Dimension, as the producers called it in an interview. What is it, how is it generated, how does one enter it, and even how does it work? True, it does not contradict the established canon of the books, but one feels that it does not belong to the Wizarding World of the books we grew up with. How is it possible that this “tool” so useful to Dumbledore has not been mentioned at all in any of the books? Of course, the easiest answer is that it is a tool for the filmmakers themselves that allowed them to have a duel in the middle of Berlin without worrying about Muggles, and even better: a duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald that no one witnessed.
Other facts might make more noise to the canon purists: from a Portkey going into a Floo Network chimney to another Priori Incantatem wand connection. There are perhaps other things that seem to go against it entirely: an Avada Kedavra stopped by another spell, which is really strange (not to mention that this makes the most powerful wand known, the Elder Wand, to have failed two Avada Kedavras in its history). Or the fact that a creature like the Qilin (which is known to any child according to Vogel himself) is not in any of the books written by Newt Scamander.
But these are details that the filmmakers decided to sacrifice in order to make a film that will make people leave the cinema happy. Some of them work very well, like the fact that most of the spells are non-verbal: that makes it very difficult to know what spell is being cast and if they follow the logic of the Wizarding World.
The film will definitely spark off debate about the changes introduced to the lore of the Wizarding World we know, and we will be here to continue the debate and try to shape what’s new in the world we continue to enjoy.
The final question may be maybe the one that is based on the real world: is this the final film in the Fantastic Beasts series? The ending of the film seems to say yes. With Queenie and Jacob’s fate sealed, the scene seems to show that Newt and company are done with this war, now that Dumbledore is free to fight Grindelwald himself. It is even mentioned by the main character, who thanks Newt for what he has done for him. So what’s next?
With Newt (and his beasts) not being needed anymore, the filmmakers have more freedom since they are no longer tied to the Fantastic Beasts franchise. A final film to show the duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore could be made without the need to have Newt Scamander back. Or this could even be a TV show for HBO Max.
However, the ending of the movie also is the end of Grindelwald’s charismatic side: his cover is blown and it is hard to believe the Wizarding population is interested in him anymore. Without that populism plot, what is left to be told besides the Great Duel? Is there enough content to make another movie? Grindelwald’s quest now feels a lot like Voldemort’s, and clearly going on the same path.