Words By Gerry Otim
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” isn’t a bad film. Far from, in fact. It is probably the best film of the beast’s trilogy thus far. It just isn’t great. And I guess therein lies the problem. The problem with franchise type films. They can’t afford to be ok. Or decent. Especially a film that derives from the much-loved Harry Potter series. There is a heightened expectation that comes with being a part of a big, blockbuster franchise. It must excel. It must be great. The Secrets of Dumbledore isn’t bad. It just isn’t great.
The film is directed by David Yates with the writing support of J. K Rowling and Steve Kloves. Jude Law also returns to reprise his role as a younger depiction of Professor Albus Dumbledore. The premise of the film sees Dumbledore entrusts the skills of the ally Newt Scamander played by Eddie Redmayne. Scamander is tasked with building an ensemble team of witches, wizards who are also accompanied by muggle Jacob Kowalski, portrayed by Dan Fogler who massively impresses with his awkward yet quirky use of humour which helps to bring some life and enjoyment to the film. With the apparent threat of Dumbledore’s love interest/nemesis Gellert Grindelwald looming large, as he seeks to seize control of the wizarding world, the team are challenged with combating a man whose reputation positions him to be one of the most powerful Dark Wizards of all time. Except it didn’t quite feel that way.
Much furore has surrounded this film over the years. In particularly the role of Grindelwald, which was previously played by Johnny Depp. He was swiftly replaced by the seasoned and very talented Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who is one of the highlights of the film, He does a stellar job in displaying his own menacing yet calculating depiction of Grindelwald. Mikkelsen displays a more charismatic and sophisticated version of the character. A more tranquil approach, which in turn makes it believable that Grindelwald is someone that possesses the charm to grow a legion of followers who would be willing to support his cause. There’s something more subtle and tactile about his approach, which is a win for the film.
In a recent interview on the red carpet at the UK premiere of the film Mikklesen discussed with Yinka Bokinni his approach to the role of Grindelwald: “It started out with me asking my kids if I should say yes and that was no option so that’s how it started. It’s in the story. Obviously, I jump in the middle of the process, and I had a long conversation with David (Yates) and with Jude (Law) because those two characters (Grindelwald and Dumbledore) are linked. Intertwined. So, whatever he had in mind – that was also where my character was going.”
As great as Mikkelsen is as Grindelwald, who has a flawless record in the world of film when playing a villain, I struggled to really feel the magnitude of Grindelwald’s actions. The stakes just don’t feel high enough in the film, which has less to do with Mikklesen and more to do with the storyline and the writing. Especially when you consider the way that the character of Grindelwald has been described as one of the most powerful, dark wizards of all time, dating back to the Harry Potter series.
The film makes various jabs at making us feel as though we are approaching a monumental threat to the wizarding world. Some may even land, but the jabs offer minimal damage. We are now three films into this series, and I’m still yet to feel anything of significance has happened, bar the death of Leta Lestrange. The fact there are two more films and this third instalment is an improvement on the previous two, does offer some hope that a story with the gravitas which befits such a compelling character in Albus Dumbledore can be produced.
To offer some backstory behind the dynamic between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, the pair are two of the most powerful and skilled wizards of their time. Both are enamoured and allured by each other’s power, with extreme ambitions for the wizarding world. They fall in love and seal a blood pact together, swearing to never face each other in combat. However, the death of Dumbledore’s younger sister puts an end to their relationship and steers the pair down two differing paths in life.
This is a franchise that has had many towering hurdles to overcome in recent years. From the controversy that surrounds Rowling’s opinions on the transgender community, to the recasting of Gellert Grindelwald, two months into shooting of the film due to Depp’s libel, as well as the recent arrest of Ezra Miller who plays Credence Barbone or Aurelius Dumbledore according to the manipulative Grindelwald.
Another aspect of the film which I loved was the addition to the acting cast in Jessica Williams, who takes up the role of Professor Eulalie Hicks, otherwise referred to as Lally. Lally is the Charms teacher at lvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is the North American equivalent to our much known and beloved Hogwarts. Williams brings a vibrant, elegant, and charming energy to her character as well as the film, which isn’t an easy task considering she is joining an established cast from the previous films. Lally’s introduction in the film is a delight and sets a precedent for the impact of her character on the rest of the film.
My other gripe with the film is that it just doesn’t feel magical enough. Both in the lack of spells used by characters as well as the overarching feel throughout. Furthermore, three films in, and I’m yet really build a bond or connection with any of these characters, which is vitally important as a viewer and a fan. Although Jessica Williams as Lally offers some hope of that being a possibility in future films. As a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I will always appreciate call backs and references to the Harry Potter books and films, which this film provides. The third act of the film makes a valid attempt at rectifying this with some imaginative magic tricks and duels between Dumbledore’s army and Grindelwald’s legion of followers. The two all powering wizards also face off, which makes for an exciting spectacle as a fan of the magical world. It is clear that the series has made an attempt to slowly steer away from the fantastic beast’s element to the films, which was significantly more prevalent in the debutant ‘Fantastic Beasts: Where To Find Them’. As much as I am here for the story between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, I’m still yet waiting for something monumental to take place. Over to you, Fantastic Beasts 4.