'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore' Review
April 18, 2022
The Fantastic Beasts series has hardly lived up to its description.
The first entry assured us that the franchise wouldn’t be fantastic. The Crimes of Grindelwald assured us that the franchise would be cluttered. And now, The Secrets of Dumbledore has assured us of the thing we feared most, which is that this franchise is uninteresting.
It’s been over ten years since the Harry Potter series concluded with the spectacular Deathly Hallows Part 2. With so many franchises failing to stick the landing, or even get off the ground, it seems like a minor miracle that all eight Harry Potter films were able to stand alone while also serving as pieces to a grand puzzle. Those days are now a distant memory, with the only thing left for Potterheads to do is endlessly tinker with the online sorting hat so that they can get into their favorite house.
But why has this once-promising franchise run itself into the ground so quickly? In case you forgot, there are supposed to be two more films. The thought of that no longer fills me with wonder, only dread. There are multiple reasons why things have fallen apart, from J.K. Rowling’s increased transphobia to Johnny Depp’s public image tarnishment. But while those things are important, my prognosis for this ailment is that it's good old-fashioned staleness.
We’re now at the eleventh entry in the Wizarding World series with the same story seemingly being told over and over again. Much worse, it’s being told by the same people in the same manner.
In the early days of Harry Potter, the director’s chair was constantly being shuffled around and filled with unique talents. Each film, while having intensive connective tissue, had flourishes of a signature style by those leading them. Home Alone director Chris Columbus shepherded Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Alfonso Cuarón was able to ease into the darker themes with Prisoner of Azkaban, and Mike Newell was able to layer up the human drama in Goblet of Fire.
All that stopped once David Yates was appointed to Order of the Phoenix, and has subsequently directed every entry since. It’s not that Yates is a bad director, far from that actually as he has made some of the strongest entries in the original series. It’s more that his time has been up for a while now. The same goes for screenwriter Steve Kloves, who’s written the majority of the films.
It feels like Warner Brothers are testing the definition of insanity as they keep hiring the same people to do the same thing, and somehow expect different results. There’s a reason I just spent half this review talking about everything surrounding this movie instead of what’s inside the actual movie. That’s because there isn’t much of anything inside this movie. And if there was anything in there, it evaporated from my memory the second it entered.
There’s magic MacGuffins, the debate between how the wizarding world and muggle world can interact, and fan service moments to make you remember better days. It’s just gears churning a money machine now, which, based on the box office forecasts, will likely start to grind to a halt.
The central characters of Newt Scamander and co. have failed to be interesting, a sentiment that the filmmakers feel as the franchise has steadily shifted away from them. The franchise is in full prequel mode as Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s blood feud has taken center stage. Their fleeting romance has as well unless you live in China or any other anti-gay country, where Warner Brothers have cut most of the content relating to that. You can’t be a multi-billion dollar company without bowing to the smell of money, even if it goes against everything you claim to stand for.
The Wizarding World franchise has slowly sunken down to the masses after being on the hilltop for so long. It may not be as tainted as fellow bottom dwellers Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, but there’s no sense of passion or excitement left. It’s going to take a whole lot of magic to get this beast to be fantastic again.