The last few years haven’t been especially kind to Harry Potter fans. Between the lackluster Fantastic Beasts movie franchise, the extremely polarizing Cursed Child stage production and J.K Rowling’s controversial social media comments, it’s no wonder that interest in the Wizarding World seems to be at an all-time low.
I’ve spent the last six or so years being at best disappointed in each new slice of the Wizarding World offered up and at worst downright ashamed to acknowledge my Potter fandom. So, it’s not an understatement to say I went into Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore with expectations levels practically on the floor.
Much to my surprise, I came away energized about the Wizarding Word in a way I’ve not been for several years. Yes, declaring yourself a Harry Potter fan continues to come with more baggage than I’d like, but in the wake of The Secrets of Dumbledore the series is finally in a good place again and for the first time in forever I’m excited to see where things go next.
Fantastic Beasts stumbled right out of the gate
I think the biggest compliment I can muster to describe 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is it's entirely inoffensive. It’s a bland, but functional, blockbuster. It seriously lacks compelling characters (bar Dan Fogler’s lovable muggle Jacob Kowalski), but it’s functional and I mostly enjoyed its exploration of the larger Wizarding World.
Its sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crime of Grindelwald, to put it bluntly, is a train-wreck. It feels hamstrung by a desire to be both a follow-up to the first Fantastic Beasts movie and a Harry Potter prequel of sorts focused on a young Dumbledore and his fight against the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.
The plot is a convoluted mess of rapid-fire exposition and weird side stories that serve seemingly little purpose. Case in point, the whole subplot about Credence’s (Erza Miller) true linage feels like an unnecessary tangent. It’s not helped by the ultimate revelation about switched babies feels like something out of a bad Agatha Christie novel.
I could easily go on a long rant about all the issues and missteps within The Crimes of Grindelwald, but it’s a four-year-old movie that has been dissected plenty at this point. Let’s just skip ahead and say, in the wake of the second entry in the Fantastic Beasts series the franchise already appeared to be on life support.
Secrets of Dumbledore is a course correction
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore feels like 142 minutes of necessary course correction. It’s by no means a fantastic film, it suffers greatly for the sins of its predecessor, but pleasingly by the time the credits roll the Fantastic Beasts series is in a better place than started, which should be chalked up as a victory.
One of the biggest improvements in the Secrets of Dumbledore comes from the decision to recast Grindelwald. The switch to Mads Mikkelsen from Johnny Depp pays off in spades. Mikkelsen gives Grindelwald a genuinely terrifying edge, and the opening sequence between him and Jude Law’s Dumbledore is probably my favorite in the entire Fantastic Beasts trilogy.
Secrets of Dumbledore also finally puts the fun back into the Wizarding World. While the Harry Potter movies go to some dark places on occasion, it’s primarily a film series that can be enjoyed by the whole family and the second Fantastic Beasts movie seemed to forget that. The third one remembers, and adds in several spectacular set pieces that had me grinning in my theatre seat.
I’m still not totally convinced that the likes of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Kowalski need to be involved in the wizarding war with Grindelwald, as they still feel ill-suited to the story. But I’ve made my peace with their inclusion and accept that for better or worse, they are core cast members of this tale now.
As noted the film is by no means perfect, there’s plenty of baggage from The Crime of Grindelwald that needs mopping up. For starters, the illogical decision to have Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) join Grindelwald’s side at the end of the previous movie is a real blight on Secrets of Dumbledore. Although, I was pleased that Credence plays a smaller role than you might expect, and seems to have been taken off the board for the next film.
Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts The Secrets of Dumbledore is forced to spend so much time rewriting confusing plots points laid out by its predecessor that it does struggle to carve out its own identity. Not to mention, it includes some rather bizarre plotting of its own (like the prominence of the Qilin creatures), but it’s the best Fantastic Beasts movie to date. Granted, that is not a high bar to clear, but at this point, expectations have to be lowered to such a degree that even that is a win.
The Wizarding World could have a bright future
The main reason that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore has me hyped is for the potential of what could come next. It seems like the series has finally got all its main players when they need to be, and if the next film can be a bit more focused, we could, at last, get a film that measures up to the legendary Harry Potter series.
Of course, a fourth Fantastic Beasts film even happening at this point doesn't seem to be a certainty. The disappointing reception to The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to have badly dented the enthusiasm surrounding the franchise, and The Secrets of Dumbledore’s early overseas box office takings have been disappointing (in the UK it opened to half as much as its predecessor). WB’s resolve to see through the planned five-film saga could be seriously tested over the coming months.
It would be a cruel twist if just as the franchise maneuvers itself into a position to kick on and end strong, the rug was pulled and the remaining two Fantastic Beasts films were canceled. Hopefully, audiences will rally around Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, if only so we might get to see what comes next.
Looking beyond the future of the Fantastic Beasts film series, Harry Potter fans also have the Hogwarts Legacy video game to look forward to. Which could offer the virtual recreation of the iconic wizarding school that many of us have dreamed about for more than a decade. That game is currently scheduled to release in holiday 2022 on just about every platform out there.