Walking away from the latest instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, one thing is abundantly clear: even the most enduring cash cows eventually run out of milk. The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third chapter in the ongoing saga of Newt Scamander, a bumbling magical zoologist played by what appears to be a cartoon version of Eddie Redmayne. With its lavish panoramas, eye-watering visual effects and star-studded ensemble cast: this faintly syrupy addition to J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World was clearly designed to be unsinkable. Why, then, did sitting through this near-three hour fantasy flick feel like being pulled down into the depths of the Atlantic in a cabin of the RMS Titanic? I have but three words for you: Rowling is guff.
To save you the same bewilderment that plagued me throughout this new instalment, be aware that Johnny Depp has been replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Grindlewald, a supervillain possessing all the usual characteristics of somebody bent on world domination. The greasy side parting, the Sallow-faced bodyguards, the leather gloves: it’s Hitler alright. We join Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his team of his wizarding (and muggle) friends as they attempt to stop Grindlewald from taking control of the wizarding world as the muggles prepare for World War Two. Yes, in Rowling’s world, the fascism of the 1930s wasn’t isolated to the human realm; it ruptured the wizarding world too. Although it seems that this was more a way for Rowling to assert her own wokeness than to benefit the plot in any meaningful way. Just as Grindlewald is a cartoon version of evil, the virtue of Dumbledore and company is so overegged that I ended up wishing one of them would fall to a fiery death just to feel something.
To be fair to The Secrets Of Dumbledore, it did face two pretty significant setbacks: the replacement of Johnny Depp and the Covid-19 pandemic. All in all, the film took two years to finish, which considering the expertly choreographed fight scenes and CGI sequences is no small feat. There are moments when you really can’t believe what you’re watching. Whether it’s spellbooks transforming into staircases, giant Scorpians hauling themselves out of cavernous pits, or electrical storms being summoned inside the Reichstag, The Secrets Of Dumbledore is certainly a feast for the eyes. It’s just that, by hour number two, you’re starting to pray there isn’t another course to come. And that’s really the main issue here.
While this jaw-dropping cinematic adventure has all the visual bells and whistles of the original Harry Potter series, it lacks the narrative that made those films so engaging. For every incredibly rendered fantastical creature in Newt’s trunk, there’s a half-arsed snippet of dialogue or a lazy inside reference designed to trick viewers into thinking that the script has more depth than it actually does. With two more instalments to come, it looks as though Fantastic Beasts is already running out of puff.