Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

It’s been three and a half years since the last movie set in the Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. That movie…was kind of a mess. And the state of the fandom has, *ahem* changed significantly since then. And then there were the development problems of the next movie itself. It was delayed by COVID; the main villain was recast from Johnny Depp to Mads Mikkelsen, and no one seems to be quite sure what’s going on with Katherine Waterston, who plays Newt’s love interest, Tina.

But today is finally the (United States) premier of the latest adventure of Newt Scamander and friends: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and I was not about to miss it. Plus, they brought back Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for most of the original Harry Potter films, to help J. K. Rowling with the script, so I was hopeful for a better product this time.

So, how was it?

Not great. My rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Mind you, I thought it was better than Crimes of Grindelwald. I also rated that one 3.5, but in retrospect, I think it deserved lower. But either way, it certainly wasn’t as good as Fantastic Beasts 1.

Major Spoilers Below.

So what’s going on with this movie? Well, it’s more of the same—not as bad, but still there. It’s still too messy—too much going on. It would be fine in a book, which might then bleed into a movie adaptation, but direct movie scripts need to be cleaner.

We learned who Credence was, at least. He’s Aberforth Dumbledore’s son! Which makes more sense than being his brother, but still, that doesn’t seem in Aberforth’s character. (I feel like fans generally think of him as a lifelong bachelor–though that’s technically true here). Also, his relationship had to extend well past that summer in order for Credence to be born in 1901.

Also, Jacob and Queenie are back together. (No word on how they were allowed to get married in America, though.) However, I still think their arc was poorly written. How they fell apart could have been better, and how they got back together didn’t feel properly earned. But then, we’ve known since Half-Blood Prince that Rowling just isn’t that good at writing romance.

Mads Mikkelsen did pretty well as Grindelwald, although it was a different kind of “pretty well.” Where Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald was a serpent-tongued persuader, able to convince all sorts of people to support him, Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald was more of a power-hungry maniac who already knows he has a good chunk of the people behind him. Both were good, but I think Depp’s version was more interesting. Also, I really don’t like how Rowling keeps pushing him down the blood purity route when he could have been recruiting half-bloods and even muggle-borns who have the most interest in the Statute of Secrecy being ended. That would have made for a much more interesting villain.

Anyway, there were admittedly a lot of good moments. I was skeptical of Aberforth’s arc at first, but I thought it worked pretty well by the end. The clever plan to foil a man who can see the future was a fun element. But honestly, the overall plot was kind of weak, and there were a lot of things that weren’t properly explained.

And then, there are the overt continuity issues. At this point, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Fantastic Beasts movies do not exist in the book canon. There’s just too much that’s different.

First, Dumbledore and Grindelwald met face to face. This is a problem because of this quote from Deathly Hallows:

“Barely two months into their great new friendship, Dumbledore and Grindelwald parted, never to see each other again until they met for their legendary duel.” —DH Chapter 18

Now, those words come from Rita Skeeter’s book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, and Rita Skeeter is a notoriously unreliable narrator. But still, I don’t think she could have said that when Dumbledore and Grindelwald met publicly in 1928[1] in front of dozens of the most important wizards in the world.

And that’s only the biggest one. The problems start right at the beginning. Just a couple minutes into the movie, I had to think, “Wait a minute. Did it just take two Killing Curses to kill that Qilin?” The Killing Curse is supposed to be instant and infallible. Something doesn’t add up there.

Also, what is up with the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards? In the books, it seems to be a non-entity, perhaps the head of the Wizard UN. We know Dumbledore holds the position, but it’s barely even mentioned, much less important. In Secrets of Dumbledore, the would-be Supreme Mugwump Grindelwald has the power to tear down the Statute of Secrecy and declare war on the muggles on the spot! He seems to be an actual global ruler, and this doesn’t make any sense in the world J. K. Rowling built. If Dumbledore had that kind of power to call on international resources, well, the books would have been a lot shorter.

But I’ve complained enough already about book versus movie inconsistencies. The internal consistency of the Fantastic Beasts series is also an issue. Tina at least is explained away. But it’s not at all clear what’s going on with Yusuf Kama. There’s no Nicholas Flamel at all. And more importantly, there’s no Nagini, who was set up to be a pretty major character and was sticking close to Credence before. And yet, she was already completely irrelevant in Crimes of Grindelwald and she’s just kind of disappeared here.

And finally, the blood pact[2] got destroyed. Great. Dumbledore can move against Grindelwald now. But need I remind you that it is still more than a decade before their final duel? In the books, Dumbledore shied away from Grindelwald for years because he didn’t want to face his demons, but in the movies, he’s actively pursuing him. The blood pact was suppose to give him and excuse to delay the duel to 1945, but now, what was he doing for the next 17 years (or 13)?

Then again, I said we have to ditch the book continuity, didn’t I? Dumbledore and Grindelwald meet again before their duel. McGonagall is teaching before she was supposed to be born. Rowling has already said that Grindelwald’s war was not particularly connected with our World War II, so they don’t need to happen at the same time. In this continuity, it may well be that the famous duel happened before 1945.

If we do get a fourth and fifth movie like Rowling originally planned (which is far from certain at this point), we’ll presumably get answers to some of these questions. But after Newt’s first three movies, I’m much less optimistic than I was before.

[1] Wikipedia says 1932, but I’m not sure why. I thought Lally said that it had only been a year, although I might have missed something.

[2] Interestingly, Theseus seems to call it a blood troth, implying that Dumbledore and Grindelwald weren’t just in love, but were engaged.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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