Accio the story we were initially promised. Seriously, didn’t all of the Harry Potter fans sign up for the Fantastic Beasts series expecting to see the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) chasing, rescuing, and finding the magical beasts that would fill the pages of that wonderful book? It’s hard to watch the series as it retreads the original films by pitting one good wizard against a bad wizard in order to save all muggle and wizardkind, and not lament for what the films could have been. Nevertheless, the newest entry in the Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022), does feel like a step in the right direction after the fairly forgettable Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), but it still leaves a bit to be desired.
In the Secrets of Dumbledore, Newt finds himself working with Dumbledore (Jude Law), who is attempting to stop Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen) as he attempts to regain a sense of power in the Wizarding World. Teaming with his brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), the muggle and friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Eulalie ‘Lally’ Hicks (Jessica Williams), Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), and his assistant Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), Newt faces his greatest challenge to date.
There is a beast at the center of this story, at least – however, it is mostly sidelined for assassination attempts, political intrigue, and Dumbledore family drama. To be fair, there is a middle beast – but one of the problems that this franchise has had is making many of the titular creatures feel arbitrary and perfunctory. As if the studio is just checking off the “beast” box on a long list of Wizarding World must-haves. That is really the film series’ biggest problem: it feels heartless. There are plenty of things for fans to latch on to in moments and forget that in the end, this is a heartless blockbuster. Most of the relationships don’t get any real attention. We have to throw away lines that tell the audience there is love there, but rarely do we get to see it. A sad face here, an awkward pose there – but in the end, any character connections are left as thin outlines set to the side of the franchise hierarchy.
Despite these complaints, I mostly found The Secrets of Dumbledore to be enjoyable. It overstays it welcome and essentially has two epilogues that really tested my patience. I’m not sure if we are going to get any more movies with these characters, but I really wish they would scale it back a bit. Smaller and more intimate stories set in fantastical worlds and places are not being done in the Wizarding World or Star Wars. Look at how Marvel has allowed some of the movies and shows to center around characters and let the world relax for a minute. Not every movie or show has to have the fate of the planet at stake. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) earns the Decent Watch rating.