Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the story of two wizards with opposing dichotomies. Former lovers turned foes, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) fears the rise of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) given the latter’s extreme ideology that non-magical beings (also known as Muggles or No-Maj within the Harry Potter universe) are categorically inferior. Set against the backdrop of the 1930’s, Grindelwald puts into motion a plan to build an army with the intention of exercising world dominance. Dumbledore, unable to oppose Grindelwald directly, recruits some of the top wizarding minds to assist him including Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
What works in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the production design and dedication of the cast. Designers Stuart Craig (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and Neil Lamont (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) create some remarkable settings as the adventure goes global. Notable locations include Germany at the brink of World War, the snowy temples of Bhutan, and a murky subterranean prison. These locales provide exciting opportunities for the action when it erupts, and director David Yates (several Harry Potter universe films) leverages these surroundings consistently well.
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The ensemble of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore are clearly enjoying themselves. At the center of this is Law’s younger, charismatic version of Albus still decades away from becoming the headmaster of Hogwarts. He still has that twinkle of encouragement in his eye, especially during his interactions with Fogler’s Kowalski. And speaking of Fogler, he continues serve as a lovable audience surrogate, wowed at every display of magic.
Those expecting The Secrets of Dumbledore to significantly expand upon the lore of this universe may find themselves disappointed. Despite a rather hefty runtime of close to 2 and a half hours, The Secrets of Dumbledore tries to tackle and resolve a multitude of storylines in a rushed fashion. Some people might be surprised to find that the plot quickly undoes many previous narrative and character knots. At the same time, there’s plenty left unresolved. As such, The Secrets of Dumbledore attempts to do too much and accomplishes very little when considering the arcs of those involved. Fans could be left feeling that the film is rather hollow.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is banking on the fact that people are still hungry to explore new corners of the Harry Potter universe by providing depth through historical context. While there certainly may be stories of interest, the creative team should think carefully about how they want to proceed to satiate mainstream audiences.