Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: A fantastically overstuffed head scratcher.

Ask any Potter fan what makes the Potterverse so special and you’ll get a range of replies—but somewhere will be mention of authentic and engaging characters. This is why the previous two Fantastic Beasts prequels felt like a Potter betrayal, with an over-abundance of digital monotony and crispbread-like characters that made all the Potter goodness disappear in a puff of NYC smoke. Gone was the grounded heft that Hogwarts brought. Gone were the appealing characters such as Harry, Hermione, and Ron and their flawed complexities. Instead, we were left with an overly apologetic Eddie Redmayne and his menagerie of insufferably cute beasts and an inanimate Johnny Depp who looked like he had a broomstick stuck up his arse. Secrets of Dumbledore, the third instalment, could only be better, right?

Thankfully, yes. And some of that is due to the reintroduction of screenwriter Steve Kloves. While the previous two Fantastic Beasts films were solely scripted by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, here Kloves (who also helped adapt the original Harry Potter books into films) lends a helping hand to breathe new life into the cast.

Rowling, who oddly decided to jump the ditch and shoe-horn period America into the mix of the previous two films, adds even more globe-hopping as we follow Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his team of wizards and witches from England to Germany to Bhutan and beyond. Dumbles, Newt (Redmayne), Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and the gang from the previous films, plus a few new faces, are tasked with stopping the newly exonerated Grindelwald (Depp this time replaced by the superb Mikkelsen) from seizing control of the wizarding world. It’s a simple enough premise that moves through the gears rather swiftly and before you know it, we are thrown into a heady mix of moving parts that operate like a wartime espionage thriller. Bag switching, spies, snitches, and covert surveillance among other tropes render this film a peculiar melange of Potterverse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

While Secrets of Dumbledore does have more moving parts than it knows what to do with, and may be a little too much to absorb for younger audiences, the cast manages to fumble their way through and deliver a convincing enough tale. It’s unarguably the best Fantastic Beasts prequel so far—but that’s not really saying much.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here