Mads Mikkelsen is the best thing about 'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,' a sequel that sometimes feels like 'Harry Potter' fan fiction
Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore."
Replacing Johnny Depp with scene-stealer Mads Mikkelsen is the sequel's greatest strength.
The large absence of Katherine Waterston and some curious plot decisions weaken the film.
If you told me the fate of the wizarding world was reliant on an adorable deer-like creature called a Qilin, and whether or not it believed Mads Mikkelsen's nefarious Gellart Grindelwald was pure of heart, I would've said that sounds a bit like fan-fiction.
But that's what "Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore" largely revolves around.
The third film in the "Harry Potter" prequel franchise follows the continuing adventures of Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and a sorted bunch they tossed together to try and stop Dumbledore's ex, Gellart Grindelwald (an excellent Mikkelsen, who replaced Johnny Depp) from starting an all-out war between wizards and non-magical muggles. (In other words, the film is focused on the one thing this franchise has supposedly been trying to do for the past two films with very little success.)
Despite starting out a bit dark with the killing of an animal onscreen, which may frighten little ones, the majority of the film is lighter with Newt's lot getting wrapped up in a rather convoluted plan in their efforts to thwart Grindelwald.
We follow an exhaustingly random group that consists of his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates), a character who's partially Newt's former adversary, Yusuf (William Nadylam), his non-magical friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), and a random friend from the last film, Professor Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams).
Much of that plan, which is never clearly explained, involves protecting the aforementioned Qilin, a rare creature (that conveniently didn't exist in the original "Fantastic Beasts" text) with abilities to see the future and know if a person is inherently good or evil, from getting into the hands of the dark wizard.
The film finally addresses Dumbledore's sexuality, putting the pain of lost love at the heart of the film
Fifteen years after author J.K. Rowling first revealed that Albus Dumbledore was gay, fans will finally get explicit confirmation of Dumbledore and Grindelwald's relationship. The film wastes no time putting the ex-lovers front and center, setting the tone for the rest of the film to revolve, in part, around their complicated love story.
Mikkelsen, especially, makes you believe in the ill-fated love story between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, channeling what made fans yearn for a romantic coupling between the leads in his cult-favorite NBC series, "Hannibal."
The tension between Law and Mikkelsen isn't only believable – it's quite easy to see how these two could've been the ultimate wizarding power couple at one time – it's immensely relatable for anyone who has ever experienced the pain of a broken bond.
The exploration of Dumbledore's hidden romance is a vast improvement over the last film, 2018's "Crimes of Grindelwald," which only hinted at Dumbledore's sexuality in a vague moment.
Rowling has been criticized for often discussing but not depicting Dumbledore's sexuality in her writing despite numerous opportunities since 2007. Rowling wrote the screenplays for the first two "Fantastic Beasts" films alone before she received help with the screenplay for the third film, "Secrets of Dumbledore," from producer Steve Kloves, who wrote all seven "Harry Potter" movie scripts. It's unclear why Kloves joined the screenwriting team this time around. But I couldn't stop wondering if he was brought in to make it more progressive.
Still, the gestures made on screen may not be enough LGBTQ representation that some fans are looking for. Spoiler: No one's locking lips in this film. (Not that they should've since the flame between Dumbledore and Grindelwald died out long ago.)
Mads Mikkelsen is a scene-stealer and the best addition to this franchise
Mikkelsen slips into the role of Grindelwald so naturally that it's easy to forget Depp had ever played the role.
Surprisingly, it's not difficult to accept the change, especially since a different actor has played Grindelwald in each film. (Colin Farrell played a version of the character in the first film until Depp revealed himself in the final minutes of the 2016 movie.)
Still, Grindelwald's vastly changed appearance in the third film is never addressed on screen. In fact, any trace of Depp is scrubbed from the film, including wanted posters that now bear Mikkelsen's likeness.
With Depp, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to follow a wizard who comically looked like another bizarre invention out of the actor's menagerie of eccentric characters he's played over the years.
In contrast, Mikkelsen plays Grindelwald with a suave, charming charisma that convinces you of why anyone would be seduced by this alluring, handsome wizard and be suckered into fighting a war for him.
Some of 'Secrets of Dumbledore' feel like fan fiction and a derivative of other 'Harry Potter' works
If you're a newer fan of the wizarding world you'll likely enjoy much of what you watch in this sequel. It's easy to get lost in the magic and familiar music of the wizarding world.
One scene in particular, between Credence and Dumbledore, is a highlight of the film where the two show off their magical prowess.
But "Harry Potter" fanatics may groan over some derivative writing. One specific plot point involving multiple briefcases feels ripped straight from the pages of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Another endearing moment late in the film feels like a lesser replication of one of the franchise's most iconic scenes from the same book. Those two moments alone may have fans wondering why they're watching a prequel franchise if Rowling is out of fresh ideas.
At other times, you may wonder if you're watching a creation of Rowling's or fan fiction.
For instance, there's no real logic that Jacob, a non-magical baker who really has little reason to continue to be in this franchise other than for delightful comedic relief, should be given a wand and then be allowed to parade around the wizarding world like an honorary friend of the magical community.
Typically the magical world jumps at the first sight of a muggle in order to protect their world from outsiders. Here, it's curiously decided that since obliviating (a spell to make him forget magic) Jacob didn't work, he can just hang with them instead.
The 'Fantastic Beasts' films are filled with too many meandering subplots
In every "Fantastic Beasts" film, Eddie Redmayne is forced to contort his body in strange ways to either perform a ridiculous animal mating ritual dance or subdue a wild creature. That happens again in "Secrets of Dumbledore" when Newt is forced on a side quest to rescue a character.
While it's one of the film's most humorous bits and maybe something kids may chuckle at, the scene does nothing to advance the film's larger, more interesting plot forward.
That's a larger problem with this franchise.
Overall, "Secrets of Dumbledore" is an enjoyable film, but it's filled with painfully obvious tangential plots solely designed to incorporate the franchise's titular "beasts" into the film. Cutting such scenes could shorten the film, the longest of the trilogy, by about 15 minutes.
Three films in, Newt and his ever-changing ragtag group are becoming less necessary to the overall larger story the film is trying to tell about a potential wizarding war against non-magical humans that has been drawn out for three movies with no real end in sight, especially since there are five planned films.
Instead, it feels like Newt and his creatures are simply there to fulfill the requirement of the "Fantastic Beasts" film title. The franchise would be better off sidelining the creatures to get to the main event people are really coming to these films to see: the infamous Dumbledore and Grindelwald duel that takes place in 1945.
The real tragedy isn't Dumbledore and Grindelwald's soured love story, it's that fans may never see (what's supposed to be) one of the greatest wizarding duels on screen. Because the franchise is still in the 1920s after three films and the franchise is embroiled in controversy, you have to wonder whether or not wrapping up the prequel saga is worth the trouble for WB at this point.
The film does its best to make you forget about the many controversies around its stars and creator
Throughout the film's more than two-hour runtime, I often found myself asking, "Why is this the group of individuals who were selected to stop Grindelwald?" Surely there are more competent and powerful wizards and witches in the community who want to prevent this obviously dangerous wizard from starting a war than this random hodgepodge of whoever is left in the franchise?
When I wasn't pondering that, it was difficult to ignore the absence of Katherine Waterston's Tina Goldstein. Newt's love interest, and the second lead in the franchise until this point, Goldstein has been minimized to a glorified cameo. And a pretty lame, unconvincing excuse is provided for her absence.
Instead, Williams steps in to fill the large gap left by Tina. Though her presence is welcome, it's obvious that Williams' scenes feel like ones in which Waterston would've appeared. (Some have surmised Waterston's role was reduced after publicly opposing franchise creator Rowling's views on transgender rights).
Perhaps Waterston's absence is partially why the non-magical muggle, Jacob, who appeared in the first two films, is brought back in such a large role. Here, Jacob's informed that he's the key to saving the wizarding world from Grindelwald. But why is a baker so important? That's never explained.
Somehow, those two things may be the least of the film's concerns.
The largest hurdle "Secrets of Dumbledore" faces will be whether or not the controversies of star Ezra Miller (who was recently arrested), Depp (who was "asked to resign" from the franchise amid continuing legal battles with his ex), and Rowling (who has been criticized for comments on the transgender community) will loom large over the film's potential box office.
As a result, "Secrets of Dumbledore" feels like a lot of patchwork to try and make you forget about any negative press surrounding its talent in the hopes that you'll get lost in just about anything else — an adorable magical creature, a muggle who is living his best life by gallivanting through the wizarding world, and a complicated love story between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. To the studio's credit, it largely works until you start considering pieces of the film's logic.
At the least, the film very much lives up to its title, successfully diving into two of Dumbledore's secrets, his hidden romance with Grindelwald and the exploration of Credence's (Miller) heritage, a reveal that's been dragged out for three films. (As a reminder, in the last movie, he was shockingly revealed to be a long-lost Dumbledore.) This film will settle if that's true once and for all.
"Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Grindelwald" is in theaters on April 15.
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