It’s 1932 and Eddie Redmayne‘s Newt Scamander helps a magical beast called a Qilin give birth. With its ability to see into the future, the acolytes of Mads Mikkelsen‘s Gellert Grindelwald steal the Qilin‘s offspring in their bid for world domination. However, unbeknownst to them, the Qilin gave birth to twins and Newt and grandmaster Albus Dumbledore (as played by Jude Law) must protect the second Qilin as the wizarding starts to fragment in the build-up to civil war.
This is a movie that puts its cards on the table from the first scene.
So, travelling in the leaden foot of the previous two Fantastic Beasts movies, there didn’t seem to be much to recommend the prospect of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – and yet- I have to say it’s a very different film. Gone is the breakneck pace with the disposable characters that pop up in the convenient blink of a back story or the incessant tornadoes of special effects that blew through every time the plot started getting dull.
Kicking off with an opening scene that cinematically chimes with Professor X meeting Magneto or Al Pacino inviting Robert De Niro for coffee in Michael Mann’s Heat, this is a movie that puts its cards on the table from the first scene. Straight away, you know who is who, what is what and everybody’s prepared to risk because, in essence, “Fantastic Beasts 3” is a spy story.
Essentially Mad Mickelson’s Gellert Grindelwald wants to wage war on the Muggles, (that’d be the non-wizarding folk if you missed out on the Harry Potter movies) and conversely Jude Law’s Dumbledore doesn’t. Yet there’s more to it. Grunewald and Dumbledore used to be lovers and having bound themselves in a mutual spell, neither can ever harm the other. Instead, the battleground will be fought over the future and in particular the second baby Qilin who is supposed to be able to anoint the next leader of the wizarding world.
So, stepping into the shoes of Johnny Depp as Grimwald, it has to be said Mads Mikelson fits them so well, that Johnny Depp might as well have never worn them. Speeding to the overall conclusion of this review, it could be argued that you needn’t bother with either of the preceding Fantastic Beasts movies. Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander (that’d be Newt’s brother) aids matters with a very droll, Ian Flemming-like co-conspirator which is straight out of the how-to-act-all-MI5-like playbook. So, whilst Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander still looks as though he’s always doing something he shouldn’t, Jude Law manages to march through every scene like Dr-Who, slyly holding all the cards whilst still being unsure as to which will drop first.
As I said, in the previous Fantastic Beasts movies, the special effects felt muddled and muddied. Forever getting in the way of the drama, thankfully this time they’ve been relegated to only when they’re needed. Sure, Judge Law’s accent occasionally wanders across the Atlantic but this is a far more approachable movie which trumpets the dangers of fascism in young adult tones. In fact, with its twin currencies of loyalty and betrayal, this is a return to form for a franchise that had lost much of its magic.
So, will Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore be the franchise’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story reset? Well, that very much depends on your willingness to return to the Fantastic Beasts universe given the previous two movies. That said, for a movie that I was dreading, it’s such a pleasant surprise. See what you think.