Review: Potter Prequels Stall Out in “Dumbledore”

J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World always moved quickly, but it has recently seemed to catch up to Potter’s pop-cultural sensation. It’s a long time since those long lines outside the bookstores. Although the movies ended, the books did not stop. The prequels to “Fantastic Beasts”, which now include “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” have continued, even though Pottermania fever has subsided, at least among lesser-educated Muggles.

There was always an element of dislocation around the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. The Potter films, which are boarding school movies with magic added in, we’re all about Hogwarts. But where are the “Fantastic Beasts’? Prequels may have a foot in New York City in the 1920s or ’30s, with world-war storm clouds everywhere, but they flitter nervously between fantasy realms far, far away.

Who is our most important character? Jude Law’s wise wizard pushes “The Secrets of Dumbledore” to the forefront, perhaps in search of its own clarity. These movies were first made with Eddie Redmayne and Newt Scamander, Eddie’s magizoologist. Maybe he was always meant as a sidekick, but I believe Redmayne’s meek performance has made Newt a more sentimental mascot along with a bunch of characters.

Review: Potter Prequels Stall Out in "Dumbledore"

At least the villain has been consistent — the character, at minimum, and the actor who plays him. Mads Mikkelsen replaces Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald. She is a long-time friend and lover of Dumbledores. Grindelwald’s rise is the central drama to “Fantastic Beasts,” which is a dark series that revolves around the terrifying power grab of a tyrant, who has echoes of fascism both then and now, and wants the magical universe to rule over Muggles.

“Fantastic Beasts” could be found in a prequel world. They are not in Potter land, but in some contrived realm next to Potter land that is merely there to profit from a rich patch of intellectual property. Despite their great talent and craft, these movies never served any other purpose than keeping the Potter train moving.

This franchise’s first iteration has a script that is not solely Rowling’s. Steve Kloves also wrote or coauthored all but one Potter movie. The Secrets of Dumbledore is a series staple, and David Yates has directed it. But these movies have been characterized by over-complicity, with big blockbusters combining heavy CGI effects with deeper political allegories.

“Dangerous times favor dangerous men,” intones Dumbledore.

Review: Potter Prequels Stall Out in "Dumbledore"

This is a fine line. “The Secrets of Dumbledore,” however, doesn’t skimp when it comes to proclamations of good & evil. Yates’ movie cannot be denied that it is trying to conjure something meaningful. The film opens with Dumbledore’s meeting with Grindelwald as well as a confession of love. It’s an admirable moment, given how it was handled so simply. The problem is that their past bond doesn’t really resonate, especially since much of what comes next is colored by their tragic breakup. Mikkelsen can be a great actor, but here she is quite boring.

There are still moments of love and romance. There is not much spark. A few of the actors and scenes give life to the movie. Jessica Williams adds a bright spot to the movie when she’s involved. Marvel has never produced a more spectacular street fight than this one in Berlin.

The Secrets of Dumbledore lacks in magic and is a bit boring. There are many differences between the Potter movies and these, but I began to wonder what was missing from the cast and crew of the “Fantastic Beasts” films. These films may have been made for Potter readers as they have reached young adulthood. However, it is possible that the films were intended for Potter lovers who have moved on to more adult battles. What fun is it to see a world of wizards that only has a handful of serious, mature faces? Perhaps a sense for wonder might have gone out of the window, breaking a spell.

The Motion Picture Association of America rated “Fantastic Beasts – The Secrets of Dumbledore”, a Warner Bros. movie, PG-13 due to some violence/fantasy. Running time: 142min. Two stars out of 4.