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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a Love Letter to Magical Masculinity

There is still a great deal of goodwill for the Wizarding World. So much so, that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is now the eleventh film in the franchise. Four years later, it’s easy to forget that millions watched the first two movies in the Fantastic Beasts series and are very invested in where this original story heads next.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is both exactly what should follow The Crimes of Grindelwald, and exactly the type of film that moves further away from the original premise of the Fantastic Beasts picture book. It is this push/pull feeling that makes the film so unusual. This is a scarily adult magical parable. The film does feature fantastic beasts, but the beasts play second fiddle to the rise of fascism. And it does feature Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), but Newt plays second fiddle to Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). In short, The Secrets of Dumbledore is what happens if Steven Spielberg’s 1993 output (Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List) is merged into one film. For his seventh outing in the Wizarding World, director David Yates went dark.

It’s the 1930’s. Dumbledore is consumed by the ramifications of the love pact he made with evil Gellert Grindelwald (now mischievously managed by Mads Mikkelsen) which prevents them from hurting one another. Having escaped from Azkaban prison, Grindelwald grows in power, plotting a magician/muggle war. He holes up in a gothic castle with the obscurial (a magician whose repressed powers cause a magical parasite) Creedence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Queenie Goldstein, a legilimens (mind reader) and an assortment of stylish raven-haired followers. Newt and Creedence cross paths when Creedence steals a new-born Qilin, a powerful deer-like creature with golden scales. Dumbledore suspects that Grindelwald will try to interfere with the election of a new Minister for Magic. So, he enlists the help of Newt, his muggle buddy Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle), Professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams) and myriad others in a complex magical heist they must complete before time runs out.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is an intriguing, original ride that continues a much-loved tradition. It’s a muted love letter to Dumbledore, putting him front and centre, something Harry Potter fans have craved for years. Law puts in another good performance, as a wistful Albus, although his attempts to use Michael Gambon’s Scottish inflection in every sentence are mildly distracting. Mikkelsen is wonderful, breathing new life into Grindelwald. He ignores Johnny Depp’s manic portrayal, instead offering a Grindelwald who is more measured and infinitely more menacing. If the first Fantastic Beasts movie was about embracing difference, and the second was about race, this is about cultural values. The film goes into overdrive with its Nazi imagery, crowd uprisings and barely contained violence. Although it provides a commendable story, the sense of foreboding renders the film far less family-friendly than others in the series. There are only glimmers of levity, which is a shame, as The Secrets of Dumbledore works best when focussing on Newt and his assortment of creatures. Luckily, there are snatches of Teddy the niffler and a bowtruckle in goggles, adorable as ever.

It’s clear that Yates sacrificed the creatures to focus on Dumbledore’s personal life. Yes, it’s commendable to provide franchise screen space for grown men to say they love each other, but do not mistake this film for a love story. This is a film about unrequited male pain. At times it is immensely sad, others, terrifying, and the nearly two and a half hour run time races by. If only the film had less Schindler’s List and more Jurassic Park. Williams is a great addition to the cast, as a confident non-white figure, a nice change in a fascist parable. However, the audience’s heart will lie with Folger. Jacob’s everyman quality allows us to bathe in his magical awe. Because magic is remarkable!

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is an ode to one of our favourite wizards, and a serious movie about magical brotherhood. It’s an entertaining film fizzing with moody energy, if only it were more…fantastic.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is out in UK cinemas on 8th April 2022. It opens in the US on 15th April 2022.

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