Directed By David Yates
Starring – Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen
The Plot – Professor Albus Dumbledore (Law) knows the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards, witches and one brave Muggle baker (Dan Fogler) on a dangerous mission, where they encounter old and new beasts and clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers. But with the stakes so high, how long can Dumbledore remain on the sidelines?
Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action and violence
It’s unfortunate that “The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a tale of two halves, especially since the superior second half elicits more than a few endearing qualities to the experience that allows it to exceed the disappointments in “The Crimes of Grindelwald. It starts with the most riveting action sequences of the entire trilogy, with Yates redeeming himself by finding the same sense of wonder that in turn channels the proper urgency and exhillaration that makes magic fun above all else. These trio of sequences throughout the film’s second and third acts elevate the material at just the right moments, cementing stakes and circumstances for the conflict that not only pave the way for one highly-impactful climax, but also as the exclamation point of this franchise, which allows it to succeed as a stand-alone film, and not the third chapter in a trivial franchise. Beyond this, the decorated ensemble produces more than a few magnificent turns, but specifically in the work of Law and Mikkelsen, who both feel born to play their respective roles. For Mads, he takes over for the immense shoes of Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald, and while I did enjoy Depp’s specifities in his turn, the work by Mads cements a far more grounded and believable portrayal of the antagonist. For starters, he’s effortlessly evil, channeling specifically unique feelings in just a look that other actors can’t quite attain with physicality, all the while sharing a satisfying chemistry of battle-tested adversaries with Dumbledore that coherently wears the weight of their documented history. Speaking of Law, his brilliance knows no boundaries as the titular character. Jude’s adventurous spirit is firmly on display, but it’s the warmth and resilience he constantly exudes as the glue that holds this group together that is most compelling, igniting a fire from within his diatribe that provides the kind of love and care for the character that hardcore fans deserve in the portrayal. Aside from the performances, the technical merits equally ignite a magnifying energy that the film is all the better for triggering, specifically in the whimsical innocence of James Newton Howard’s breathtaking musical score, and much-improved C.G designs that better flesh out the textures and movements of the beasts with authenticity. The former is always something that has consistently been there with this trilogy, serving as a testament to the artistic grip and influential integrity that began with John Williams scoring the Harry Potter universe, but the latter is very surprising to say the least, supplying with these creatures an influential heft in their interaction with lively properties that obscure the line of disbelief seamlessly, all the while playing to the magnitude of the established world where anything seems possible with a suitcase and a little magic. Finally, while the barrage of problems that I have within the script feels infinite, the promise of the film’s title is fulfilled in ways that earn a degree of permanence should this film continue to move forward with future installments. There are certainly a few reveals that, whether predictable or not, do change the perception and the significance of certain character dynamics, and in the case of the mysterious Dumbledore help to luminate some of the mystique and ambiance with the character’s early days that have only been speculative to this point.
On the topic of the aforementioned script issues, the duo of screenwriters of Steve Kloves and J.K Rowling rarely ever merge as one cohesive ideology of what this property should be. This is in tonal inconsistencies, with the film’s comic material feeling too slapstick to ever converge seamlessly to the hefty dramatic impulses continuously beating around it, but especially the direction of the narrative, which feels as convoluted as one can expect in a 134 minute run time. This is felt heavier than ever in the opening forty minutes of the film, which are not only uncompelling in the complete lack of accessibility of the narrative, various plot threads being brought up then never mentioned again, and characters changing motivations at the drop of a hat, but also stunted in how long it takes for the conflict to materialize naturally. This is especially the case for Grindelwald’s newfound hierarchy, as the crimes of the previous film are entirely forgotten by the wizard community in ways that are never explored, and all the more problematic for the pulse of the community, which bring forth a quick, undocumented vote that is not only void of perspectives, but also the political commentary that goes unexplored in a process that bares more than a few sociological traits of our diminishing democracy. This gives way to the much better second half that I mentioned in my positives, and is all the more strange considering the two halves essentially feel like two different films fighting for dominance over the movie’s focus, a sentiment that can equally be felt within the inconsistencies of the story’s characterization. Is Newt even the protagonist of this franchise anymore? I ask that because he does nothing in this film, and I’m not embellishing even slightly. Nothing that shapes up is ever really because of him, nor does his character evolve in a way that feels evident between the film’s book-end, unceremoniously stringing him along in a film that is definitely Dumbledore’s film, despite oddly enough that character has even less screen time than Newt. While on the subject of diminishing returns, the plot device of Credence continues his awkwardness in portrayal, thanks in part to tug-of-war for screen time that he shares with Redmayne, but also in the flat and complete lack of conviction from Ezra Miller. To be fair, I’ve never felt Miller was right for this role, especially with his portrayal here all the more unnerving considering his recent real life controversies (Depp was booted for less) have gotten the better of his internal demons, but a complete lack of emotionality and commitment to his deliveries turn up consistently flat results, and outline the only bad performance between a litany of memorable and invigorating turns between this spirted ensemble.
“The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a noticeable improvement over a second film that nearly boxed away all of its magic, but not necessarily one that is convincingly ambitious enough to allude the shadow of its Potter prominence. Though the first half falls frantically flat, the superior second half combs through enough riveting rides, tantalizing twists, and prominent performances from Law and Mikkelsen to get it back on track, proving that this beast still has some roar to its registry.
My Grade: 6/10 or C-