I’m not sure what this says about me, but out of all characters in all the literature I’ve consumed, Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore is my favorite. He is always the smartest person in the room while also being the kindest. He is far from perfect, yet that that imperfection endears me to him more. We’ve gotten several actors playing Dumbledore now, some better than others (actually, 2 have been fantastic and then there’s Michael Gambon). Going into this new entry of the expanded Wizarding World franchise it was easy to be skeptical of how he would be played. I’m happy to report that Jude Law gets the character better than I could have dreamed.
Secrets of Dumbledore takes place several years after its mediocre-to-awful predecessor, The Crimes of Grindewald (a film that is somewhat redeemed in viewing the extended cut). Dumbledore, Newt, and their rag tag helpers find themselves facing a new threat in the growing popularity of the dark wizard. They have a plan, but must work together in ways they didn’t think possible in order to emerge triumphant.
The big elephant in the room is addressed right away in the very first scene. It’s no secret that Grindewald has been recast from Johnny Depp to Mads Mickelson. It can’t be said that the transition is seamless because they play the parts so differently. However, the recasting is certainly for the better. Mads is an infinitely better Grindewald than Depp ever was. He has the presence and subtlety that makes us believe that people could so willingly follow him to dark places.
It also should be said that the Dumbledore/Grindewald relationship is no longer hinted at in this film: they were in love as teenagers and the franchise is done skirting around the fact. It’s done very tastefully and movingly.
Another interesting bit about this movie is that it has a second credited screenwriter besides J.K. Rowling. The first two Fantastic Beasts films had Rowling as their sole writer and while they were competent scripts, they wouldn’t exactly be categorized as “cinematic.” Apparently the parent studio, WB, put the breaks on filming this one until they went back to formula, as it were, especially after the fiasco that was the last installment. As a result they brought in Steve Kloves (the writer of all but one of the Harry Potter film adaptations) to help and it shows! The writing isn’t perfect, but it is very satisfying and felt more like an actual screenplay in a way that the other scripts weren’t.
Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski steals much of the show as he is given much more comedy to work with. However, the new character Eulina Hicks (played by the brilliant Jessica Williams) is absolutely spectacular and steals the scenes that aren’t already stolen by Fogler.
If there is a weakness with this film, it’s that there are too many characters. Ezra Miller’s Creedence has overstayed his welcome and doesn’t seem to fit anymore, despite being integral to the plot of the franchise. This film series now belongs to Newt, Dumbledore, and Grindewald and that’s how it should be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the best in the series so far. It’s very satisfying, with better writing and finally getting the character of Dumbledore right, despite having too many characters to give service to.