At last, a movie to put magic back in the Potterverse! Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore, while overlong, is a welcome return to form, writes BRIAN VINER
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore (12A)
Four years is a long time in fantasy. Since the last film in the Fantastic Beasts series, 2018’s The Crimes Of Grindelwald, Johnny Depp, who played the title character, has been accused of crimes of his own and ‘invited’ to step away.
Meanwhile, JK Rowling, who conceived the whole thing as a Harry Potter spin-off, has helped conjure up a tremendous barney over transgender rights.
Happily, at Monday night’s unveiling of the third Fantastic Beasts movie, no audible disgruntlement greeted Rowling’s name as it appeared on screen (as co-writer and producer).
I went with my 23-year-old niece Millie who whispered to me as the lights went down that she is ‘anti-JK Rowling’ and briefly explained why. Maybe it’s generational. On the whole, Monday’s audience was a lot closer to Millie’s age than mine, but even if you don’t think (as I do) that Rowling talks a whole heap of sense about gender, she is still a heck of a storyteller.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore, appearing in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbleore
With the excellent Mads Mikkelsen replacing Depp as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, playing him as less overtly evil but more insidiously sinister, this film confirms what was only hinted at last time, that Grindelwald and his nemesis, the benign Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), were once lovers.
As for Dumbledore’s protege, ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander, Eddie Redmayne is once more a study in tousle-haired, lip-biting diffidence. As before, you will either want to mother him or murder him.
But he has grown on me as a reluctant action hero, and there is a priceless scene when in releasing his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) from a prison Newt out-manoeuvres a scorpion army by deploying ‘limbic mimicry’, distracting them from violent engagement by making them copy his dance moves. It is exquisitely done, pure cinematic joy, and worth the price of admission on its own.
But Newt has other problems. Grindelwald’s goons have rudely interrupted one of his beast-gathering expeditions, stealing a new-born, enchanted creature pronounced ‘chillin’, a cross between a fawn, a goat and an ancient mystic. Able to see into the soul, it has the power to determine the next head of the International Confederation of Wizards, a position Grindelwald craves.
Luckily, the dark wizard’s underlings pounced without knowing that a twin was born moments later. Grindelwald’s version, it seems, might not be the full chillin.
All this unfolds with energy, wit and dazzling special effects, though you’ll need to have seen the first two films to have more than a vague clue what’s going on. Even if you did, following the plot is less than straightforward.
But the director is again David Yates, whose credits also include four of the Harry Potter pictures, and who knows better than anyone how to bring Rowling’s universe to life. I loved his first film in the series, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016), but found The Crimes Of Grindelwald devoid of magic. This, while overlong, is a return to form.
The excellent Mads Mikkelsen replaces Johnny Depp as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald
The period has moved on from the Roaring Twenties into the Menacing Thirties, and by shifting the action to Berlin, where Grindelwald is a charismatic demagogue increasingly adored by the masses – ‘the world will hear our voice and it will be deafening,’ he cries – the parallels with Nazism are as unsubtle as a Nuremberg rally. Other loose story threads from the last film are deftly tied. One reveals the true identity of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller).
And the principal two words in the title are not overlooked. Newt’s special friends are again his platypus-like ‘niffler’ and stick-shaped ‘bowtruckle’, and watching them I was reminded of a TV interview I once did with Rowling, when I told her that my then nine-year-old son had been distraught on realising he would never be a wizard.
Far from being charmed, she winced, and said she hated people telling her that. Well, I have news for her. He’s all grown up now, in fact married, but when he watches this he will wish he had a bowtruckle to call his own. Maybe everyone will.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore opens on Friday
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