I watched the new Fantastic Beasts movie so you don’t have to
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I watched the new Fantastic Beasts movie so you don’t have to

Warning: spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

 Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022, David Yates), the third and newest instalment of the Harry Potter franchise, premiered theatrically in April. The film was originally set to be released in November 2020 and has suffered continuous delays due to the COVID pandemic.

Growing up, I have always been a hardcore Harry Potter fan, waiting eagerly for the new films – and books – to come out and falling in love with the magical world and its characters. Naturally, when the Fantastic Beasts series was announced, I saw a chance to immerse myself in this world again. Needless to say, it got me very excited. This film, however, not so much…

Maybe it was the constant delays, maybe it was the controversies that surround the actors and creators of the series, or maybe it was the memory of how disappointed I, like many other fans, was with the second film of the series. Whatever the reason, the release of the new Fantastic Beasts was not accompanied by the usual excitement and thrill that has always surrounded the Harry Potter series. Although my expectations were admittedly not high, I still gave the film a chance: after all, how bad could it be? And I am now here to tell you exactly how bad it was.

Fantastic Beasts - Newt Scamander

The Plot:

The plot of the film picks up where Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, David Yates), its predecessor, left off. It’s 1932 and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits a group of five people in order to stop Gellert Grindelwald (Mad Mikkelsen) as he himself can’t directly fight against the dark wizard due to a blood pact the two made in their youth.

The group is made up of our main character, the magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), his brother – the head of the Auror Office, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) –  Ilvermorny Charms teacher Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), the French wizard related to the Lestrange family Yusuf Kama (William Nadylan), and the No-Maj baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger). Together they embark on a series of missions, aided by Newt’s assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates) and at times by Albus’ younger brother Aberforth Dumbledore (Richard  Coyle), following Albus Dumbledore’s instructions.

With the exception of Yusuf Kama, who joins Grindelwald’s inner circle, the rest of the group heads to Berlin where the International Confederation of Wizards not only acquits Grindelwald of all his criminal charges but also allows him to run for the upcoming confederation’s elections. In Germany, Theseus is arrested by Grindelwald’s allies who are now in control of the German Ministry of Magic, and is subsequently rescued by Newt.

In the meantime, Lally and Jacob stop Grindelwald’s plan to assassinate his competition, Brazilian candidate Vicencia Santos (Maria Fernanda Candido), as Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is sent by Grindelwald to kill Dumbledore. He’s quickly defeated and soon afterwards reveals that Credence is, in fact, Aurelius Dumbledore, the illegitimate son of Albus’ brother.

The rest of the film takes place in Bhutan, where the International Confederation gathers to elect their new leader, which is determined by a Qilin, who only bows for the pure of heart. At the beginning of Fantastic Beasts, Grindelwald killed one of the newborn Qilins Newt had found, and later reanimated the corpse to control the result of the elections by having the animal bow to him.

His manipulation is exposed by Newt, who has rescued the other Qilin at the beginning of the film, and the rest of the group, along with Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Credence, who has questioned his loyalty to Grindelwald after finding out the truth about his father. Grindelwald thus tried to kill a dying Credence but both Dumbledore brothers step in and the contact between Albus’ and Grindelwald’s spells breaks the blood pact before Grindelwald escapes.

The Good:

Let’s give Fantastic Beats credit where credit is due. Visually, the film is stunning. And this is mostly because of the high quality of the visual effects used in the film, creating beautiful images particularly when magical creatures or magical duels are involved.

One can’t help but wonder if the almost overwhelming presence of fights and magical creatures that the plot revolves around is to showcase the brilliancy of the visual effects – in such a way that the Harry Potter movies could not compare with, due to both the high budget and advance in technology the new Fantastic Beasts benefits from – rather than being prompted by the plot.

However, compared to the previous films of this series, I have to admit that the “fantastic beasts” element, which should be such a central part of this franchise, was not only showcased more in this instalment but also more relevant to the overall plot.

In fact, the Quilins that played such a key part in the opening scene turned out to be a central plot point that is discussed throughout the film, thus signifying the importance and significance of having a magizoologist involved in Dumbledore’s plan, to begin with. Overall, Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore is a much better film narrative-wise compared to the other two in the series, whose narrative often falls flat and seems unclear: the plot, as complicated as it may be, is entertaining and fast-paced. 

This film certainly benefits from bringing Stephen Kloves – who famously adapted all the films in the Harry Potter series except one – into the writing department, which had previously been entirely J. K. Rowling’s responsibility. 

Speaking of Dumbledore, something I really enjoyed in this film was seeing how Dumbledore is the mastermind behind this entire plan: oftentimes, all the other characters, as well as the audience, are knowingly and deliberately kept in the dark about his overarching plan. This is an aspect of the character that was evident in the Harry Potter series as well and is even more present in this film, which certainly adds depth to his character.

Fantastic Beasts

Similarly, I think Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore gives us a better view of who Gellert Grindelwald is. Despite being the villain and undoubtedly a flawed character, this film allows him to be depicted as a tridimensional character with his own motivations and struggles, not solely related to Dumbledore. Ultimately, this is certainly thanks to Mad Mikkelsen’s excellent performance that stands out as an equally believable and terrifying villain.

The Bad:

Although I do admit that the narrative was better than that of the previous film, Fantastic Beasts: The Secret of Dumbledore still has many faults to be held accountable for. First of all, the film introduces too many characters too quickly.

Despite the fact that they are all relevant to the plot, it still feels rushed and does not give us a chance to thoroughly explore them: for example, I would have loved to know more about Lally and what motivates her to join the mission, or about Yusuf Kama and his connection to the Lestrange family, and how Grindelwald’s erasing the memory of his sister affects him. It is not just a matter of character development – the rush in introducing characters necessary to the plotline damages the entire narrative of the film.

For example, as one of the big cliff-hangers of the previous film was Queenie’s betrayal as she joins Grindelwald’s side, you would expect this to pay off in the third instalment of the series. Instead, there is hardly any explanation given for her actions and her role as part of Grindelwald’s army is only suggested and hinted at in a couple of scenes – surely, you would think that having a Legiliments amongst his followers would be a key to Grindelwald’s plans – until she sees Jacob halfway through the film and decides to switch sides again, almost as randomly as she did in the previous film.

It could have been an interesting plot point for her character, one that would allow her to discuss her own sense of morality and perhaps ever her struggles with her Legiliments abilities, but it simply feels rushed and inconclusive in the way it is portrayed.

Ultimately, this plays into another big flaw of this film: forgetting about the previous ones in the series. Characters and plots seem to be abandoned, never to be mentioned again: Newt’s brother was engaged to Leta Lestrange who tragically sacrificed herself to save him, and yet Theseus acts as if this did not affect him or his trust in Dumbledore at all. Many other characters from the two previous films disappear, such as Tina who was the main character and is now only in the final scene, or are not even mentioned at all, namely Nagini (Claudia Kim) who has been set up as an important character in the second film and will be extremely relevant in the original franchise.

 Similarly, although it is enjoyable to watch, the plot feels unnecessarily complex. Although the introduction of the International Confederation of Wizards is interesting and does elevate the plot to a political dimension – one that I am not so sure we needed in a film that is supposed to be about magical creatures – it is only sketched out and not fully explored, leaving the audience with many questions regarding the international confederation itself and the politics of the wizarding world, neither of which had ever been really touched on in previous films and are only briefly mentioned in the Harry Potter series.

There are many threads that develop throughout the film, perhaps too many to properly be explored, some of which seem to serve no plot purpose; such as Newt rescuing his brother from the German prison, which is a funny scene and ideal for comic relief, but seems irrelevant to the overall narrative of the film. It seems that the main problem is that the need to introduce new elements in order to surprise the audience that oftentimes clashes with what was an already established world. Although I can understand the wish to further expand what has been a successful franchise, perhaps a prequel is not the right format to do so.

And even so, there is nothing surprising about this film. From the expositionary recap of what happened in the two previous films at the beginning of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore to the extremely predictable plot twists that are supposed to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, passing through what seems like an overly spelt-out parallel between Grindelwald and Nazi Germany.

There is little to nothing that is truly unexpected about this film. What is perhaps the biggest and most surprising reveal throughout the film is that of Credence’s real identity. However, what is supposed to be a big reveal – especially after it had been so teased out in the previous film and shown as the cliffhanger for this next instalment – feels somewhat underwhelming and more of a quick way to fix all the issues that Credence being a Dumbledore would raise in terms of the timeline of events and what we know from the original series, as many fans had pointed out after the second film.

Timeline issues were present in the second film with the Hogwarts scenes when the audience is introduced to a younger version of Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott) as a teacher at Hogwarts.

Except that Minerva McGonagall would have been far too young to attend Hogwarts, let alone be a teacher there. In fact, in 1927 – or in 1932 when the third film is set, for that matter – McGonagall was not even born. In Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore the series falls into the same mistake again and does so because it is constantly trying to evoke the feelings of nostalgia that is making all of us go to the cinema and watch these films.

As such, we get a few scenes that are unnecessarily set in Hogwarts where the familiar tune of the Harry Potter films is playing and the familiar halls of the wizarding school seem to welcome us home. Except that this is not the Harry Potter series and there is no real reason to feature these elements or forget about the timeline to showcase one of the most beloved characters of the franchise.

And The Ugly:

It is time for what may be an uncomfortable conversation for those of us who have grown up idolising the series. The question has been the same since the first film of the series: did we really need a movie – let alone an entire series – on Newt Scamander? And if we did, would it not be more interesting if it were done differently? If the series had to focus on Newt Scamander and the fantastic beasts, as the title suggests, it could, and should, have been done differently.

A series that focused solely on the young wizard, exploring different countries and their wizarding community along with their respective magical creatures, would have been just as entertaining and exciting to watch without needing to involve a bigger plotline which only seems to complicate and contradict the original timeline of events that has already been established in the main series. Similarly, if the intention was to explore the relationship and conflict between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, something that is often brought up through the original series, why not set out to do so from the very beginning?

As regards the relationship between the two wizards, the idea that the two had loved each other had been speculated by fans ever since the author publicly declared that Dumbledore was gay but this film seems to confirm it like never before.

Although we could praise the film for including an LGBT relationship, the truth is that this relationship in question is still very much hidden. The few lines we get from Dumbledore in which he reveals his love for Grindelwald seem like throwaway lines, without which the film can still very well work – which is very convenient for the Chinese market.

It seems that the little moments in which the queer relationship is either confirmed or hinted at are only through words and in such a way that can be easily cut out to avoid censorship and still earn revenue from what is to this day one of Hollywood’s biggest markets. And yet there are many examples of recent films that have been box office hits despite having been banned in China – naturally, one wonders why it was a chance Warner Bros was not willing to take.

The revenue of a film is always important but in this case, the box office results will determine the future of the franchise as well. Although it had been said that the series would comprise five films, it is not so certain that there will be any more films after this trilogy. While David Heyman revealed that no work on the script for the fourth film has yet begun, Warner Bros is reportedly going to make a decision based on the critical and commercial performance of the film and, with the recent change within the network itself, it may not be surprising to see things change or head in a different direction.

We will just have to wait and see – for now, it is worth remembering that the film is currently the seventh highest-grossing film of the year with $199.7 million of box office revenue, not even two weeks after its theatrical release.Needless to say, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film shadowed by controversies, some of which are impossible to differentiate from the film product itself and make its viewership complicated, if not problematic at times. Johnny Depp who originally played the role of Grindelwald was initially set to return for the third film but, following the domestic violence allegations made against him by his ex-wife he was asked to resign in 2020.

Another cast member who has recently received negative publicity is Ezra Miller: the actor has been arrested multiple times in Hawaii in the past month for violent behaviour and second-degree assault. And, of course, everyone is aware of Rowling’s problematic beliefs and transphobic opinions, which have sparked discussions within the public opinion in the last few years. Many of the Harry Potter actors have spoken out against her views and in support of the transgender community and even one actress from the Fantastic Beasts series, Katherine Waterston who plays Tina Goldstein, has publicly condemned the author’s comments – coincidentally the one actress whose characters seems to have mysteriously be relegated to a smaller role in this film.