When a film sets expectations as high as the apparently all critical election of the next Supreme Mugwump, a title and position that seems to have been completely forced into this universe solely for the sake of this film, you know things are going to be dismal at best. Things start looking worse when the main villain, supposedly the greatest evil this world has ever known, has been recast for the second time and now has to essentially start all over once again trying to craft a character. It enters the realm of the completely hopeless when the supposed protagonist is less interesting than a bowl of plain yogurt and only serves as a now meaningless avenue to shoehorn in the long forgotten central story device of including zany creatures at random points and trying to call it a film. Between the barely coherent writing and mind numbingly monochromatic color palette, the only thing the film has left to possibly make it in any way notable is for it to surpass the incredibly, incredibly low bar set by its abhorrent and completely indecipherable predecessor, The Crimes of Grindelwald. It does do this, but being better than one of the worst films of the last decade is not in any way an accomplishment to write home about.
If anything, The Secrets of Dumbledore seems to be an attempt to course correct after the critical panning of Grindelwald, but any attempt here to right the ship is completely lost in a general failure of foundation and construction. The fact is that the confusion this series is mired in is too far gone to ever be rescued, and this entry’s endeavors to suddenly pivot to a political thriller with heists and espionage don’t do it any favors whatsoever. The failure of the Fantastic Beasts series is illustrated perfectly by the film’s two scenes before the title card. Two, notably, because these films are constantly trying to tell two stories at the same time. The film first opens on a conversation between Dumbledore (Jude Law, a consistent bright spot in this abysmal series of films) and Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen, who acts leagues above what the film deserves), who speak in exposition, as estranged former lovers do, about their now opposing ideologies and the fact that they used to be in love. The series acquiescing to actually spelling out the nature of their relationship would perhaps be nice if it weren’t so completely bare minimum and were it not happening after a plethora of films and books that refused to ever say it out loud.
Following this conversation, that introduces nothing new to the plate in terms of what we know about the world or the characters, the film moves over to Newt (Eddie Redmayne), who is in a remote jungle to witness the birth of a strange and magical beast, and it’s perfectly indicative of what these films have become. The film now must write in a creature to be critically important to the storyline to justify the existence of the protagonist. It’s clear the direction is now attempting to be steered from where the series started in favor of prequel focused contrivances that connect directly to the wider known universe, but that they’ve also locked themselves into a series that is supposedly about a very specific character and his fondness for magizoology. So Newt exists, now less of a character with arc or personality than ever, and he exists only to hunch sheepishly in the periphery of the characters the film actually cares about, which is everyone else.
Soon after arriving and beginning to take care of the newborn qilin (this film’s fabricated beast-related MacGuffin), Newt is ambushed and attacked by Credence (Ezra Miller, now angstier than ever and sporting a hairstyle that can only be compared to Gabriel from Malignant (2021)). The beast is stolen for nefarious purposes, and the title card hits. Mere minutes into the film, it’s easy to check out. It already feels like none of it matters. The series, having attempted something new and utterly failing, is now just a washed out facsimile of the structure and tone of the Harry Potter films, only now offering nothing new and nothing of consequence. Fans of the series already know abundant details of the relationship, conflict, and ultimate downfall of both Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, and the protagonist has been relegated to repetitive, mindless shenanigans where silly animals do weird things for comic relief. In an attempt to invent something of mild importance or intrigue, it all quickly shifts into the realm of a heist movie, except there’s no score to be taken and not a single person on the team has an ounce of personality or charm.
The plan, as stated, is that there is no plan, because without a plan, Grindelwald cannot see the future (an ability he inexplicably has that never quite serves any larger purpose). So all the characters break off to follow their own individual subplots, each more pointless and bizarre than the last, but it’s all become centered on traveling to Germany, where the candidates for Supreme Mugwump are gathering (a completely real title that is mentioned so casually and is so easy to miss that it took actual research to uncover, and it’s bewildering for a vast majority of the film what the election’s importance is in any way). If you’re getting ahead and beginning to connect the dots, it’s as absurdly on the nose as you can imagine. Yes, this film about the rise of a psychotic fascist hellbent on subjugating and eliminating those he deems inferior to himself is shaping up to take place chiefly in Germany during an election in the 1930s.
Insultingly, it’s all the film has. One singular and obvious metaphor with no nuance and a complete absence of actual critical thought or meaning. Once again, it’s exactly what we’ve already seen, a madman villain with extremist followers rising to power to commit acts of magical terrorism on the basis of perceived superiority. It’s all far too convoluted, constantly relies on senseless contrivances, and repeatedly makes casual mention of things that range from questionable to incoherent in the hopes you’ll never catch on and realize just how completely wrong all of it is. As it reaches a point of no return, where it seems to have been worked into an inescapable corner, it begins to just deliver flat, pointed statements to instruct you how you should feel about each character and the situations they’re in. Newt is smart and kind, Jacob (Dan Fogler, always having a good time but his character has no coherent justification for being brought into any of these events) has a heart of gold, Grindelwald is evil, Dumbledore is good. Credence continues to be a poorly crafted inclusion whose entangled histories with each individual character emerge with decreasing amounts of clarity, and it seems the series has given up on him just as much as the audience surely has at this point.
It needs to be over, because this creatively bankrupt series written by an abysmal screenwriter and worse human has absolutely nothing to offer anyone. No fun for the casual moviegoer, no insight for the dedicated fans who grew up with a world that used to be dazzling and spectacular, and no semblance of meaningful commentary or functioning metaphor. Thankfully, by the end, it feels like the film has given up too, and it feels appropriate for the point it’s all at. One film, aimless and fun enough to be passable, a sequel that tries to shoehorn in everything and the kitchen sink only to explode spectacularly into one of the worst films in recent history, and at last, a third film whose direction has become so irrevocably tainted by the messes before it that there’s no way it could come anywhere close to resembling a watchable film. It’s all wrapped up in a forcibly neat bow in the film’s final moments, leaving little to no loose ends left to tie up, not daring to attempt another cliffhanger like its predecessor, presumably because there’s a very real possibility that the pencilled in fourth and fifth films might be wiped from the slate altogether. It would be for the best, really. The real secret is that this franchise is dead, and it’s time to leave it behind. The world has moved on from all of it, and it’s high time we make room for more worthwhile storytelling voices.