The third entry in the Wizarding World side-saga of Newt Scamander has finally arrived in theaters just when we need it the most! Like an old friend, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore welcomes the audience with its warm embrace of magical familiarity. I didn’t realize truly how much I had missed walking through the hallways of Hogwarts until the sense of pure joy seeped into my pores at just the slightest musical cue, or nod towards the Harry Potter series. At this point, three movies deep, it is relatively obvious that one’s enjoyment will hinge on their familiarity with its world. The Secrets of Dumbledore accomplishes little in the way of dumbing things down for newcomers; it does however stay faithful to everything previously established, while pushing the story forward in bold and exciting ways.
In the wake of Crimes of Grindelwald, the dastardly evil wizard Grindelwald (now played by Hannibal actor Mads Mikkelsen, who inexplicably takes over duties from Johnny Depp) has begun amassing a legion of followers in support of his efforts to reign supreme over the Wizarding World. Mudbloods, Muggles, and No-Maj have no place in Grindelwald’s warped vision for the future. Thanks to a vial holding a blood pact between Dumbledore (played again by a dashing Jude Law) and Grindelwald, the two cannot enact any form of justice on the other without dire consequences. The vial can sense the betrayal in Dumbledore’s heart if he has even the slightest proclivity to move against Grindelwald.
Dumbledore desperately hunts for a way to destroy this vial, all the while entrusting magizoologist Newt Scamander (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne) to concoct a brilliant scheme to thwart Grindelwald’s plans for domination. Along for the ride with Newt is a Muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), whose bakery has fallen on hard times after his true love, Queenie (Alison Sudol), joined Grindelwald’s side; Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), an Auror fully committed to Dumbledore’s vision; Bunty (Victoria Yeates), Newt’s faithful assistant and creature-handler; “Lally” Hicks, a fiercely intelligent witch who works as a professor at America’s Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; and Yusuf (William Nadylam), half-brother of Leta Lestrange who is still deeply upset about his sister’s sacrifice in the previous movie.
The film opens with a profession of love from Dumbledore to Grindelwald, but it is the following scene that sets the stage for what is to come in the two-and-a-half-hour long epic. Newt shows up just in time to help deliver a beautiful baby Qilin (pronounced “Chillin”) from its mother deep in the forest. Unfortunately for them, Credence (Ezra Miller) shows up along with several of his goons, and they snatch the baby Qilin while dealing a death blow to the protective mother. Newt does what he can to comfort the dying animal—well after Credence and company have vanished, a second baby Qilin emerges, making it evident that the mother actually gave birth to twins! Newt takes the baby (which resembles a baby deer) under his wing, the love for creatures on full display almost immediately.
Living up to the Hogwarts school books that he will eventually author, Newt’s third adventure once again places magical creatures as the key to its narrative. The Qilin is said to be the purest in existence, one that cannot be deceived, and this ends up being vital to the looming war between wizards and Muggles that Grindewald so desperately wants to come to fruition. These rare creatures can quite literally see into one’s soul. Secrets of Dumbledore introduces several new “fantastic beasts” into the lore, and makes sure the returning ones get major moments in the spotlight as well. In addition to the absolutely adorable Qilin, a strange reptilian blowfish-like bird leaves a mark, as do creepy cave-dwelling crab-scorpions that call on Newt and Theseus to do a ridiculously funny crab-walk. Pickett the bowtruckle continues being my favorite, utilizing his stick physicality in clever ways, and director David Yates does not forget to give us the film’s scene-stealing trademark Niffler slow-motion hijinks. The fact that each and every one of these animals feel so unique and purposeful within the context of this world is a testament to the incredible world-building that has always been a Potter staple. Being completely immersed when one views a film is essential to digesting everything it has to offer, and the immaculate work that Rowling accomplishes with the help of David Yates is frequently jaw-dropping.
With author J.K. Rowling having written the previous two films by herself, the addition of longtime Potter film series writer Steve Kloves this time around is surprising but vital. Kloves scripted every previous entry other than Order of the Phoenix, and clearly knows a lot about what makes a script pop, cinematically speaking. The addition of Kloves injects a lightness and whimsy that blends beautifully with Rowling’s calculated prose and crackling dialogue. For a movie that has so much ground to cover, it never feels convoluted in the slightest thanks to the harmonious relationship between both screenwriters, the director, and the cherry-picked cast. The sheer scope could have been daunting if it wasn’t so beautifully executed. Each time a cheeky reference is made to Potter lore, it comes off as earned rather than just thrown in for the sake of nostalgia. Without spoiling anything, one moment that takes place in Hogwarts made me smile from ear-to-ear.
In terms of character work, there was a ton of ground to cover. Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth (Richard Coyle), has a sizable role for a new addition, and characters (Theseus, Bunty, and Eulalie in particular) that previously didn’t have much meat to them suddenly pop with bold flavor. My favorite of the bunch is Redmayne’s Newt—his quirky charms and adoration towards animals of all kinds now additionally reveal a fiercely protective streak. Jacob’s love for Queenie fuels his persona into an even snappier and more passionate one than before. On the flipside, Queenie seems to have regrets about joining up with Grindelwald, though she is one of his primary sources of information using her mind-reading skills to his benefit. Nearly every character is enriched by the direction they take or reveals executed, but none moreso than Dumbledore himself.
As played by Jude Law, we are finally leaning more into the deeply complex Albus Dumbledore of the novels, and I was totally loving it. Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein does still appear at least once with a drastically reduced role, as she is said to have been promoted as the head of the American Auror office. Less of Tina is a bit of a shame, but fitting her into the plot would have been a major hurdle, and likely result in the sidelining of several others. The biggest elephant in the room is the obvious absence of Johnny Depp. It seems to be a missed opportunity not to explain away his newly-minted looks being that of Mads Mikkelsen, and yet, Mads embodies the character with a dark soul and complicated humanity. In the absence of Depp, he was actually a terrific choice to bring forward this new vision of the villainous tyrant that has been built up over the past couple movies.
The previous two Fantastic Beasts fresh in my mind, I sat down for my screening of The Secrets of Dumbledore with nervous excitement, and I have to say that it did not disappoint in the slightest. In fact, I would proclaim this as the best Fantastic Beasts yet. Overflowing with heart, humor, stunning creatures, and greedy political maneuvering, instead of feeling like a reductive retread or a middling middle entry, Secrets of Dumbledore emerges a crucial addition to the Wizarding World. Amazing special effects and a satisfying ending wrap up this chapter in a way that left me dying to know what adventures Newt will embark on next. We still have a fourth and fifth film remaining, and one can only hope that the same creative team stays on board to see how it all concludes!
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore apparates exclusively into theaters everywhere on Friday, April 15th.