Fantastic Beasts has always been an interesting prequel trilogy to the Harry Potter books, taking place several years before the original series it focuses less on the main characters and more on side characters to help fill out the universe. To me, it started as a way to feature some of the incredible beasts in the Harry Potter universe (hence the name) with the main protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) reprising his role as an employee in the Beasts Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, as well as a self-proclaimed magizoologist. While the film still features “Fantastic Beasts”, this one certainly attempts to deliver far more than cute creatures that live in Newt’s amazing suitcase.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is the third in the series featuring the same stunning visuals and fantastical settings that have been the cornerstone of the Harry Potter universe as a whole. This time the main antagonist Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), a childhood friend of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) has grown bitter and angry at the Muggle (non-magic user) world. He longs to become the leader of the wizarding world and wage war upon those he feels are inferior. Bound by a blood pact, Albus cannot directly take up arms against Gellert to foil his plot so he must recruit a team of wizards and non-wizards alike to stop him.
Dan Fogler reprises his role as Jacob Kowalski, the lovable non-magic wielding baker from the previous film along with newcomers Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander, Newt’s older brother, Jessica Williams as Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks, master in defensive magic, and William Nadylam as Yusuf Kama, who both hates and admires Gellert. Along with Newt, this ragtag team must work together and overcome many obstacles if they wish to save both worlds.
One of the first things I noticed while watching TSoD (The Secrets of Dumbledore) was immediately how dark the tone was from the previous films. The Fantastic Beast franchise to me has always been geared more towards an older audience versus the previous films and this is certainly no different. Without spoiling the film, the first 15 minutes or so are incredibly violent and likely to traumatize young viewers. Contrary to what you might think from the title, the film features less about the beasts themselves and takes the view far more into the realm of wizarding politics and dark magic. If you are looking for a movie to take your children to and escape this is not a lighthearted affair. The plot can be difficult to follow, even as an adult, and for every cute and fantastic beast that is featured, there is equally terrifying events that can be difficult even for the most aged of us to handle gracefully.
That’s not to say the film isn’t incredible, if not heavily politically focused. It’s amazing how much of real-world events make their way into the film as if to teach the viewers a lesson as to what can happen if you allow spectacle and grandiose speeches to cloud one’s judgment. While seeing the previous films may not be a requirement, it will be certainly difficult to follow if you have not. The film starts quickly only to slow down a little and then pick up speed again, so be prepared for some heavy scenes followed by some slow pacing followed by heavy scenes again.
The acting and visual effects are of course outstanding. The merging of both the outside world and the wizardry world is both seamless and stupendous at the same time. We visit both familiar and unfamiliar places at once and the creatures that do make an appearance are magical and mystical to behold. Nothing in the film seems fake or out of place and even some of the more ludicrous events feel plausible in the setting that has been created for us. The film, particularly towards the end, feels like coming home after being away for a long time, familiar, yet alien at the same time.
Fantastic Beasts: TSoD is my favorite in the franchise, and easy to recommend for Harry Potter fans of a young teen and up to age. While it can be a bit difficult to follow, the intrigue and characters allow the viewers to ignore some of the events they may have forgotten to take in the splendor of what is before them on the screen. While younger viewers may enjoy it for its quirky characters and visual appeal, it is certainly not a movie I’d recommend for them. The plot alone is very deep and hard to follow, and it is simply too dark a film except for maybe the diehard of young minds. While there were young children at the film I attended, and some seriously funny moments that had them laughing, I wonder whether those few moments were enough to detract from the other visuals that were beset upon them. Ultimately, it’s up to the parents and the children themselves to decide if this is the type of film for them.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore blends cinematic mastery, amazing visual effects, and an incredible plot to the third film in the series. It expands upon the Harry Potter world in ways that must be seen to believe. If you are a fan of the previous films, this is a no-brainer. If you felt the previous films were too dry or slow, I’d still recommend you take this into consideration. If you are a fan of Harry Potter and that Fantastic Beasts series of films, this will bridge the gap between them nicely.
4 out of 5 stars.