Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it easy, the role of a film critic is simple. We’re supposed to give each release our full focus and attention, be honest with our experience, and try to have a meaningful conversation about it. It’s also up to us to give each film a chance. You have to sit in that dark theater every week and sincerely believe that any movie can change your life. (Also read: The Flash star Ezra Miller’s DC future reportedly put on hold by Warner Bros after his arrest)
But some films complicate the task. Some franchises, like the Fantastic Beasts movies, make it hard to maintain that cautious optimism. There’s already so much going against the franchise that’s tired, pointless and stretched beyond its limits, that it’s hard not to be jaded before even a single image comes to life.
Although I admit I have only fond memories of the first film which allowed us to revisit the wizarding world that so many of us cherish so much and gave us a new crop of truly endearing characters. Much like the Hobbit movies, there’s an honesty and integrity to these “early movies.” They feel like they come from a place of love for the world they decided to revisit. But it’s an honesty that diminishes and dissipates in their follow-ups, where a single movie’s story and characters are pushed beyond their limits, forced into trilogies they don’t need or earn. not.
In this case, the second installment – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Meandering Storytelling And Spectacular Miscasting Grindelwald – was a terrible fever dream of a movie. All I could remember before tackling this third (and hopefully final) one was that there was something about a tense brother-sister equation that I couldn’t follow or feel for the whole my life. The franchise was so desperate, in fact, that they literally invented a Dumbledore. The big reveal of the second movie was that Ezra Miller’s Credence was secretly a Dumbledore no one knew (who somehow ended up in Queens New York…)
Like most characters in this franchise, Credence had real impact and weight in the first film (the idea of an Obscurus and the dangers of suppressing its identity remains a wonderful metaphor). But there was no need to have it forced and recycled in subsequent installments.
This brings us messy to Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore – a poorly crafted, horribly disjointed and joyless slog of a third movie (literally everyone is sad in this movie) that becomes more and more pointless as it goes on. as you go. Dumbledore’s Secrets follows the growing right-wing influence of dark wizard Gelert Grindelwald (formerly Johnny Depp, now Mads Mikkelsen – this series is quickly becoming one of the most canceled franchises, first Rowling, then Depp now Ezra Miller).
As he does with all the dark wizards he himself is responsible for rising to power, a young Dumbledore takes it upon himself to bring down Grindelwald. (A serious but painfully misinterpreted Jude Law #NotMyDumbledore, does his best to bring Dumbledore: The Early Years to life, here armed with an awkward Cornish tinge to his accent.) But, following a foolish decision born of young love, Dumbledore and Grindelwald can’t move directly against each other due to a Blood Troth – a sort of magical oath that means trying to harm each other would cost you your life . It’s both an interesting narrative device and the wizarding equivalent of a regrettable young love tattoo. (They repeatedly and encouragingly state that Dumbledore is canonically gay).
To bring down his evil ex, Dumbledore assembles his own ragtag team of Auror-Avengers led of course by Newt Scamander (the ever endearing Eddie Redmayne who is Newt deserves a better movie given that this one seems to keep forgetting that he is the leader). Joining Newt is his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates) who he has apparently had for seven years (?) although I have no recollection of her. There’s also Professor Hicks (Jessica Williams whose distracting sassy ’70s accent makes it almost impossible to take her seriously). There’s also Newt’s muggle friend Jacob Kowalski from the first two films (the lovable Dan Fogler) who asked to join them on this dangerous mission when he had no discernible skill or real use. There’s also Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner on the fine line between stoic and expressionless). I didn’t really understand what Theseus was for in the film. The hero wasn’t interesting enough so you brought in his muscular brother as a treat for the eyes?
With the team in place, things become a true magical Mission Impossible, with Dumbledore sending them on missions thwarting Grindelwald across the globe, from Berlin to Bhutan. I say thwart, but for the most part our heroes seem to find themselves in the same room as Grindelwald at various uncomfortable functions and dinner parties where the good guys and the bad guys just seem to be daggering each other. It’s just a very weird movie.
What is left to say, then? I could talk about the bland, lifeless visuals (the wizarding world has never looked so washed out and colorless). I could talk about the many fuzzy and disorienting magic duels in CGI (were the wizarding duels in the Harry Potter movies always so boring?). I could tell you that you barely get a feel for Hitler’s Grindelwald campaign (he’s unthreatening and unlike Voldemort, you barely get a sense of his growing influence and the fear it brings). I could tell you that the structure and the rhythm of the film are shifted. The whole thing feels like a long, slow-burn buildup in a movie that’s somehow both too rushed and too slow. I could tell that the individual scenes don’t lead organically to each other and the sequences don’t seem to know where to end. Or there’s this incredibly bizarre climax involving a weird public election and a magical Bambi-like creature that’s supposed to choose the next great wizarding leader.
But at this point, with this franchise, all you hope is that at the very least, it works like a magic action blockbuster that I don’t care about. . Barely. The fundamental problem with the DNA of the Fantastic Beasts movies is how they try to intertwine its two strands. On one side you have the story of Newt Scamander, the kind-hearted magizoologist who just wants to deal with magical creatures who get caught up in one adventure or another. On the other, you have the intriguing Dumbledore-Grindelwald backstory as laid out in the latest Harry Potter book. The second and third films’ attempts to bring these two together is where it loses all sense of consistency and substance. At this point, it’s pretty baffling that this franchise is being helmed by the same David Yates who helmed the last four Harry Potter movies. The guy should just be going through them on autopilot now.
20 years ago saw the start of one of the most enchanting stories of good versus evil ever seen on screen. The Harry Potter series has done more than touch hearts. It made us believe in magic. With the Fantastic Beasts franchise, it seems the magic has now passed.