Reviewed by Ann Lysy
Picture it: it’s 2018, and I’m in a suburban movie theater with my niffler plushie, Macaron. The lights have just come up on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m shocked, dismayed, full of questions, and knowing I’m nowhere near getting any answers.
Three and a half years, and most of a pandemic later, I finally have some, thanks to Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
A brief summation of the plot: Albus Dumbledore gathers a global team of elite magic users and one excellent non-magical baker to try to confuse the future-sighted Grindelwald. His thought is that, if Grindelwald foresees Plan A, he might not see Plans B-K happening in the background. Chaos then ensues.
Like Crimes, Secrets is an overstuffed movie, with tons of side plots, characters, and plot devices that get no explanation. That said, though, it is still a significantly more satisfying movie than Crimes was. As a child, I would watch TV shows and wonder about the small, private moments of the characters I loved so much: the moments of solitude, meal times, times when they were just enjoying each other’s company instead of saving the world. Secrets provides that between the big set pieces: small, sweet vignettes of relaxation that give us a better idea of who these people actually are. We also get some answers, including one that was answered more elegantly and painfully than I ever could have expected, and actually makes some of the timelines make sense.
The other issue that Secrets has is that it will be very easy to fall into a negative trap about it because it has so much potential that it is just not living up to. The plotline about the election for the International Confederation of Wizards is muddy and at points incomprehensible, and we never learn anything meaningful about the two candidates standing for the position of Supreme Mugwump. Their positions, their platforms, even their campaign slogans? Nah. There’s no investment in them. Similarly, the movie doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of how democracy in the Wizarding World works, or how an election is run within it. I’m not asking for a ten-hour Ken Burns documentary on it, just a quick mention of casting ballots, colored wand sparks, or something.
We also see a lot of very cool magic in this movie that has no explanation, even though it’s extremely plot-relevant. Being as all of the inexplicable magic revolves around the Dumbledore family, I suppose that’s just another of their many secrets.
The movie suffers from a compressed timeline that doesn’t allow for the growth the characters have clearly experienced. We know that Crimes takes place about six to nine months after the first Fantastic Beasts movie, and a line early on in Secrets says that the events of Fantastic Beasts took place “a little over a year ago.” It’s clearly winter, so if the first film was in December 1926 and the second in September 1927, we’re looking at maybe February 1928. That’s about five months, which frankly is not enough time to explain the changes in some of these characters. A year and a half, maybe two? Sure. Five months? Harder to swallow. The hardest character to buy is Theseus, Newt’s brother. He watched his fiancée, Leta, be brutally murdered in front of him five months ago and he seems completely unaffected by her death. There’s maybe one scene where he behaves a little recklessly, but to me, the actions appeared more “man married to his job” and less “man struggling with the loss of the love of his life.” I’ll admit I’m a sucker for seeing a pretty boy be sad, but his complete lack of reaction was off-putting.
(This movie does, unfortunately, put #LetaLives to rest. However, considering how dirty she’s done by this movie and the last one, I’m switching to #JusticeforLeta.)
At least, though, we do get creatures. The movies are called Fantastic Beasts, after all, and they are highlighted throughout the movie. A sequence early on shows the creatures in Newt’s case working together to help Newt. The full scene with the manticores (so-called, anyway) is at turns tense and hilarious. Theopastries the niffler (referred to by his nickname, Teddy) and Pickett the bowtruckle prove instrumental to Dumbledore’s plans.
The cast in these movies is incredible as well. Jude Law and Mads Mikkelsen crackle as Dumbledore and Grindelwald, former lovers on opposite sides. There’s one scene where it truly feels like it’s taking all of Dumbledore’s self-will to not crawl into Grindelwald’s lap and make out with him. Jessica Williams is transcendent as Eulalie “Lally” Hicks, an American Charms professor at the top of her game. One sequence with Lally and Theseus shows us what fully-trained, skilled witches and wizards are capable of, and how dangerous they can be, even if we love them. It’s thrilling. Eddie Redmayne keeps Newt awkward and sweet but drops truth bombs when needed. Dan Fogler makes Jacob’s longing for his lost love, Queenie, practically visible, and while he’s got his moments of comic relief, he also gets real depth.
Like the characters within it, Secrets of Dumbledore is messy, complicated, and frustrating. It has so much potential and so much ambition and doesn’t realize a lot of it. It presents us with moments that don’t feel fully earned, incredibly rushed character arcs, and a lot more questions than answers. But despite all of that, I still left the theater satisfied. I want to know what happens next. I’m invested in some of the characters, and I’m interested enough in the others to stay involved in their stories too. I don’t know what the future of the Fantastic Beasts franchise holds, but I know I want to be there for it.
If you’re interested in hearing Host Marjolaine’s first reactions to the film, give a listen to Episode 148: “We Don’t Talk About Queenie.”