It’s hard to truly get excited about the Harry Potter (or depending on who you ask, the Wizarding World) franchise in 2022. Not only was the bloated second Fantastic Beast film an all-time bring-down in terms of quality, but author and creator JK Rowling cannot keep herself out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons. And now casting issues are changing characters and continuity on the fly: it’s a complete mess. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore makes no concerted effort to salvage the recent confluence of insanity.
Actors Dan Fogler and Mads Mikkelsen will try, though. The former is still having a ton of fun as the audience stand-in and resident human Jacob: and arguably the only cast member who visible looks like he’s happy to be there. Mikkelsen, a consummate professional, does well, taking over for Johnny Depp, and brings a less hammy, more threatening, and more vulnerable version of the arch-villain and Voldemort precursor Gellert Grindelwald to life.
This once promising series, which started off as a silly foray into “olden times Harry Potter” with actual fantastic beasts (and pre-2020 JK Rowling), has slowly become a convoluted and cynical attempt to unite the two timelines and sell more Harry Potter Blu-ray discs. The Crimes of Grindelwald did it no favours; tripping over itself, setting up a whole bunch of plot holes, weak connective tissue, and unanswered questions, many of which the third film makes no attempt to address.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is far less of a train wreck compared to its predecessor…”
With that in mind, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is far less of a train wreck compared to its predecessor: not that it’s a big bar to clear. While there is plenty of annoying macro-lore bread crumbing to the detriment of the film, it’s less prevalent. There are more fantastical locations to give Secrets of Dumbledore a sense of scale (and balloon the budget to potentially franchise-ending levels), and on a popcorn level (which has become a specialty for director David Yates), there’s some degree of spectacle Harry Potter fans will generally enjoy.
There’s a massive disconnect between the self-seriousness of what this new dour universe has become, and the excitement of portions of the film that are clearly meant to evoke joy. To coin a phrase: the Wizarding World has lost a lot of its magic, and cannot coast on a likeable cast (notably Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) to carry it across the finish line.
We are far removed from “Dumbledore has a brother?!” with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, having nearly as much of an impact as the writers’ room assumed it would, and the finale is a calamity of rushed anticlimactic events. In the end, even Mads Mikkelsen can’t turn this franchise around. If there’s any hope of righting the ship, WB needs to take away control from David Yates and JK Rowling.