Secrets and lies, a tragic gay love story and a world hurtling towards unimaginable horrors is what we were promised. The previous movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was admittedly rather messy but delivered grand spectacle. It left us all gasping on a cliffhanger as the evil wizard told poor Credence (Ezra Miller) that he was actually a Dumbledore and had been cruelly abandoned by his family. It was thrilling stuff as Grindelwald looked poised to start unleashing hell, manipulating Credence’s staggering destructive powers to do so. The stage was set for dramatic revelations that would tear Dumbledore apart while the wider magic and Muggle worlds burned around him. Sounds totally, ahem, magic. Unfortunately, not much of that happens in this tiresome and disgracefully padded filler of a film.
To be clear, Law is superb as the world-weary Dumbledore, his secret heartbreak over his boyhood love for Grindelwald etched on his face. He is the powerful centre of this movie and commands every scene he is in, even while his Michael Gambon-esque Irish burr drifts in and out. Similarly, Mikkelsen is mesmerising as Grindelwald, a far more menacing and pitilessly sinister presence than Johnny Depp’s previous incarnation.
Their scenes together pack a real punch, even if the writing (as elsewhere) is relentlessly pedestrian. They deserve better. And let’s not forget an unfortunate early exchange when they meet in a restaurant and Grindelwald glances down at Dumbledore’s body and then says, “Show it to me.” Sniggers rippled across our preview audience. Yes, he’s referring to their blood pact pendant, but clumsy writing rather spoiled a powerful and important on-screen acknowledgment of their gay relationship.
As for that pendant, without spoilers all I can say is that when it reappears at the end, the moment is appallingly fudged.
The main thrust of the film centres on Grindelwald’s attempts to disrupt and then potentially steal the election for the next worldwide leader of the wizarding world.
A new fantastic beast, a Qilin (sometimes Qirin), is the key to everything. The ‘Asian unicorn’ has the unique ability to see the true soul of person and can also see glimpses of the future. Grindelwald, naturally, has very foul plans for the adorable newborn creature.
And that’s about it. There are some foiled assassinations, a capture and rescue that serves no purpose except to pad out the film and introduce the humorous (but deadly) Blast-Ended Skrewts. It’s another comedy moment for Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to do silly dances and is perfectly entertaining, if overlong. Except we’ve seen all this before.
What was charming and whimsical in the first film is fast becoming tiresome as we wait for the plot to actually go anywhere. A tough ask when much of that plot centres on not doing anything that makes sense, so that Grindelwald can’t predict what they will do.
Elsewhere, Credence wrestles with what he has been told about his family and we discover whether that is true or not. But this central, fascinating and complex character (and equally fine actor) from the first two films is woefully underused in the third and his storyline fizzles away as the story progresses.
Meanwhile, the always watchable Jacob (Dan Fogler) provides huge heart and humour, as usual, and even gets his own wand. His main mission is to try and get his beloved Queenie (Alison Sudol) back from Grindelwald. The divided lovers are as compelling as ever, although Queenie’s ‘choice’ to follow the dark leader was never that convincing in the first place and provides little real drama this time around.
New character Lally (Jessica Williams), a Charms professor at Ilvermore, the American counterpart to Hogwarts, is a welcome and spirited addition to the cast. Yet again, however, the script rarely delivers enough for her to truly engage with.
In fact, there is little real sense of context, texture, depth, jeopardy or consequence throughout the entire film. Potentially interesting secondary characters remain resolutely two-dimensional, every conflict and clash is ultimately resolved far too easily. We are all huge Dumbledore fans but he is fast becoming seemingly omnipotent and omniscient, while dishily kitted out in killer knitwear and trilbys. Without the blood pact tying his hands, Grindelwald never truly seems like he is his match.
The major battles between Dumbledore, Credence and Grindelwald are also rather muddled to watch. Although much of this big budget blockbuster looks suitable glossy, surprisingly, some of the CGI wide-screen panoramas, especially a long-shot of Hogwarts, are poorly rendered.
To be clear, the film still generally looks very handsome and the performances are universally strong. It’s not even a problem that the whole series is nominally based on a slim textbook. The wider story of wizard and Muggle worlds sliding into fascism against personal dramas is more than fascinating enough.
It’s just that this film brings nothing new to the storylines, it goes in endless circles and the script frequently sags. So many characters from the international wizarding world are briefly introduced but never explored. But then neither are the central ones. It’s frustrating and, worst of all, it drags.
It’s starting to feel like those three ludicrously stretched Hobbit films. And nobody, Muggle or otherwise, wants that.
FANTASTIC BEASTS THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE IS OUT ON APRIL 8
Published at Tue, 05 Apr 2022 14:02:00 +0000