Director David Yates is back with the third installment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, The Secrets of Dumbledore. This time, Harry Potter veteran Steve Kloves joins J.K. Rowling for screenwriting duties. While there is an improvement over the last entry, even their experience still doesn’t manage to fully capture the magic of the beloved Wizarding World.
With the stakes for the wizarding and the muggle worlds becoming higher and higher, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and their associates must find a way to stop Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). Grindelwald is beginning to make his play for world domination, rallying more and more wizards and witches to his side. Because of his ability to perceive others’ intentions, Scamander and company must employ the art of confusion, including reenlisting the help of muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). But will they manage to do so in time to stop Grindlewald from making a play for the position of head Minister of Magic?
In this third movie in the series, there is some improvement from the previous film. Yet, there is still a feel of two-dimensionality and a need to establish characters, even with the addition of Kloves to clean things up. Most of them still don’t feel fleshed out, despite opportunities for the characters to connect emotionally with the audience, except for Redmayne’s Newt Scamander. Scenes that could have been used for this sit more like strangers in a room with nothing to say to each other. Some don’t seem to have a reason to be there other than to provide reference to something mentioned in the Potter movies. These combine to create some very dull moments that make the film lag. All of the actors are sufficient, with Fogler standing out above the rest, but the screenplay doesn’t have enough for them to work with. Even Mikkelsen, the replacement for Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald, is more cartoonish than sinister. Worse, Grindelwald’s supporters may as well have been faceless stormtroopers in a forgotten Star Wars film.
The cinematography during scenes with creatures both new and old is terrific, blending CGI with live action in a believable way. Unfortunately, it isn’t as enjoyable in action scenes, with the camera often moving more quickly than the eye can follow. This creates a dizzying array with too much going on to grasp fully, deepening the impression of sights over substance. The soundtrack is the one consistent thing about the film, buoying humorous and dangerous moments and everything between the two. The bleak scenery also sets the mood for the darkening situation in which the characters find themselves.
While better than the previous film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore still doesn’t reach the quality of the beloved Harry Potter series. Hopefully, with this third installment, the writers will finally accept they have enough lead characters and develop both them and the story into something worth seeking out.