From the very moment that the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie was announced, I was excited. Having been a Potterhead since 2002, I had been missing the franchise, which ended in 2011 with The Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Like many fans, I attended the opening night premiere of Fantastic Beasts, and yes, I got stupid excited when the WB logo appeared on screen, accompanied by Hedwig’s Theme. The movie itself was enjoyable enough.
I liked Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the socially awkward Newt Scamander, as well as the introduction of the American “Ministry” and Credence, the dangerous Obscurus threatening to destroy everything around him. Directed by Potter veteran, David Yates, the movie held just enough aesthetic and nostalgia for me to like it well enough, but it was certainly lacking in the magic that made the Harry Potter movies so successful.
By the time I walked out of the second film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, I knew that without a doubt, JK Rowling should not be writing the franchise’s screenplays. The retconning of various HP characters and lack of a cohesive story made the movie feel like a slog and while I was okay with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald, he still felt a tad bit cartoonish to me… but I’ve been feeling that way about every single one of Depp’s characters since Jack Sparrow.
Because I am a glutton for punishment, I bought tickets to see The Secrets of Dumbledore. In terms of the Wizarding World, I am still dedicated and I felt like I had to finish what I had started with the first film. While I believe that The Secrets of Dumbledore is a better movie than The Crimes of Grindelwald – which I attribute to Mads Mikkelson’s (replacing an embattled Johnny Depp) subtly cold and creepy portrayal of Grindelwald and WB finally taking a hint and adding Potter movies scribe Steve Kloves to the screenwriting team – it’s still a bit of a mess.
The plot itself is a snore. A wannabe political thriller dealing with a sociopathic wizard running for leader of the Wizarding World, political unrest, corruption, election fraud, etc… sound familiar? It should, because the film is not subtle at all.
Intriguing characters like Credence and Tina Goldstein are pushed to the backburner, or, like Nagini, forgotten altogether. The movie focuses almost solely on the romantic history of Grindelwald and Dumbledore, which makes me wonder what the purpose of the first two films actually was. Did Rowling have an idea of how this franchise would end or was she just writing whatever struck her fancy at the time? I think that’s my biggest problem with this whole series… there’s no cohesiveness here, in terms of plot or tone.
It’s not all terrible. I still really love the aesthetic that David Yates brings to these films and the overall look of Secrets is quite lovely as is the score. Dan Fogler continues to shine as Muggle (No-maj?) Jacob Kowalski, who is once again brought along to help save the Wizarding World beside much more powerful beings. Honestly, he doesn’t really do much, but he’s important for comic relief, so I’ll give him a pass for that.
I truly believe that the series would have succeeded had they steered clear of boring political unrest within the Wizarding World and perhaps focused on Newt Scamander’s adventures within the world of magical beasts along with Tina, Jacob, Goldie, and even Newt’s brother, Theseus. It’s certainly the more intriguing plot and it’s completely ignored after the first film. I don’t even know why Newt is so integral to the story anymore and that makes me sadder than anything else.
Rowling should have never been given the green light to write the films herself and I think that’s what will ultimately bury this franchise. As much as I adore my history with Harry Potter and the Wizarding World in general, I would not shed a year if WB decides to leave the Fantastic Beasts series as a trilogy. It’s probably better for the Wizarding World’s legacy that they do just that.