By Marc S. Sanders
That’s it. I’ve had it. Enough already. After three unnecessarily long movies, if you can’t get it right then what’s the point anymore?
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore, the third film in the Harry Potter prequel series, is an absolute failure beyond any magical or Muggle measure of comprehension. It operates with the same handicaps that crippled the prior installment, The Crimes Of Grindelwald, and maybe picked up an additional dozen or more problems along the way.
I don’t understand it Warner Bros. Following the abysmal reviews of the prior film and the tepid overall assessment of the first, why, with all the monies at your disposal, would you settle for a boring piece of production work like this, all over again? This new film’s main attraction is simply men in dull grey wool suits and overcoats speaking to one another in quiet English whispers. Every so often they do something quirky like pull a wand out of their pocket. Fleetingly, they use them. How novel.
It boggles my mind that this world from Rowling’s colorful imagination was at one time intended for pre-teens and young adults. I’ve seen political debates or Sunday morning commentary programs with more flair.
The fault in these films holds primarily with the creator, J.K. Rowling, and David Yates, the director that’s helmed the last four Potter films and all of the Beasts films up to date. I’m so exhausted in saying it. ROWLING NEEDS AN EDITOR!!!!! There is so much fat on this meat that is impossible to swallow. Someone needs to speak up and advise her to save this scene and that scene for the DVD extras. One curse that this film suffers from is the exact same thing that the second film dealt with. A background story is told, with a majestic fade up and fade down and fade up again flashback. It takes a good five minutes to tell this tale, and then someone else chimes in and says hold on, that’s not how it happened at all. Then a new character starts from the beginning and apparently tells us the real story as it truly occurred. Why in the hell should I trust this new character if you’re now telling me not to believe the lies of the former? Fodder like this stretches this fantasy towards a distant two- and half-hour mark, though it feels like four.
David Yates has always been a problem. Look, I know nothing about a camera or the most up to date technology in filmmaking or digital making, but I’ve seen enough special effects laden films in my time. The prologue to this film commits the same visual atrocity as the prologue to the prior film. Here, our main hero, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander – a magic zoologist – is observing a magical deer like creature deliver her offspring. Suddenly, some other magic figures come upon the sight and attempt to zap the creature and Newt with their wands. It’s the middle of the night amid a dense forest/jungle of thick plant life and trees. We see flashes and blurs. We hear ear piercing sound effect swishes, and the music from James Newton Howard (which is quite good) carries to a high volume. Just like the last film, though, action scenes like this are murky. It’s like the lens is covered with the bottom of a soda bottle filled with vinegar. I can’t tell who is chasing who or who is zapping who, who dies or who lives. Yates is not doing any favors for what bills itself as fantastical adventure. When he isn’t shooting action scenes like this, his direction seems to perform on cruise control at a top speed of 15 mph. There’s little drama or interest in any of the speaking scenes that drag on and on.
The movie’s story picks up with whatever cliffhangers were left from the last time. It’s really not necessary for me to recap. They hold little relevance here.
Basically, Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelson, now taking over from a controversial Johnny Depp) is getting his bearings together with the troubled young man Credence (Ezra Miller) who we were told earlier is the brother to the Albus Dumbledore (a well-cast Jude Law). Once again, Dumbledore recruits his former prized pupil Newt Scamander to locate the criminal Grindelwald and defeat him. Newt assembles his brother, his assistant (neither of which we hardly get to know; so why should I disclose their names) and his Muggle baker friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Two more new characters round out this fellowship. However, if you are looking for a real, solid fellowship, go back to those movies where the characters go after a plain gold ring. That is fantasy at its finest. This is the back story of a National Geographic issue found in your grandmother’s attic.
A whole lot of nothing happens for long stretches of time. Grindelwald has managed to get the criminal charges against him dropped, and arranged to become a viable candidate to be elected the head of the magical world. That spells trouble though, as he believes in complete genocide of the entire Muggle/No Maj population. Dumbledore, his former lover, stands on the other side of that debate. What does this have to do a with a magic deer that was delivered many moons ago when this movie started? Well, you find out……….eventually, but your patience will be shot to hell.
Only one good scene in the film works on a sort of mischievous Spielberg direction (like the Cairo sequence in Raiders) where a “shell game” with various suitcases is passed around through a small village. This turns up in the third act and finally we see some fun magic arrive. Wands are lit up that trap one wizard in a transparent brick wall. Props are turned into glass globes to trip over, and the characters smirk at one another through the hijinks. This one scene provides some welcome reminiscence of Quidditch and other prop pieces from earlier Potter films. Until this moment, no one is enjoying themselves in this movie. There’s next to no humor or cuteness from Newt’s assortment of magic wildlife. There’s no discovery from any magic spells. Dumbledore doesn’t even have any secrets to disclose, save one.
Yates and company fail as well with the details. When we get to visit Hogwarts, it’s terribly boring and dull. There’s no interesting Easter eggs or wonderment to savor. No new rooms or tunnels to uncover. No silly spells or magic props or ghosts to engage with.
A glaring part of this new series is also conspicuously missing. Tina (Katherine Waterston), puppy love interest of Newt, is hardly seen nor acknowledged. Her role was a large part of the first film, minimized in the second film and only welcomed this time as a close up with no more than four words of dialogue. Maybe not even that much. Why establish this romance angle for the hero, if she’s hardly to be used?
The one error that really stands above all else is Grindelwald played by Mikkelson. This is such an underrated character actor destined to be in every popular film franchise. He’s done Marvel, James Bond, Star Wars, now Potter, and he’ll be in the new Indiana Jones film. I welcome him to have this role in the Beasts series. Yet, he looks nothing at all like Depp’s appearance. Mikkelson just wears a grey wool suit and tie with an overcoat. Depp had bleach blond hair and pale white skin for a foreboding albino characterization. I’m not suggesting a complete duplication of what was formerly seen, but there’s a huge difference in looks between the two actors who have now occupied this part. Reader, when there’s an absence of story, mundane dialogue and distorted visuals to settle for in a big budget movie, this is where my mind is going to run off to. Mikkelson looks like he’s showing up for a read through rehearsal before the full-dress performance. At the very least, couldn’t you dress the guy in the same unusual silk vests and fabrics that the other guy wore? Put the different colored lenses in his eyes? It truly makes me wonder if there was a stipulation in Mikkelson’s contract – he’ll do the role, but he refuses to look like a clown. You just can’t not see how far apart this is from what’s been traditionally shown already.
Two more films are promised to be released in this prequel series. Really? Another two more near three hours pieces of tripe? Well, according to my Potter versed daughter, it has to be that way. These films take place near the end of the 1920s. There’s the climactic showdown that must be depicted between Dumbledore and Grindelwald though, and according to Rowling’s timeline, that occurred in the late 1940s.
So, we got another twenty or so years of this. Friends, watching these three films, I feel as if I’ve gone about sixty.