“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” (Rated T)
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller
Where to watch: In theaters
Dwight’s Rating: 2 stars
In the 1973 hit song “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel, lead singer Gerry Rafferty croons that he found himself in that position, with “Clowns to left of me! Jokers to right!”.
One gets a similar feeling watching the new film “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” – except instead of clowns and jokers, we have witches and wizards, and very bizarre creatures (although some of them are indeed clownish and jokey!).
But wait, you say! “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”? Every single one of those words seem awfully familiar.
Yes, this is the third film in this prequel franchise spun off from the long-running Harry Potter series. The screenplay is even (again) co-written by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, and directed by David Yates, responsible for the final four Harry Potter films, and all of the pictures in this current series.
The first one, 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was a surprising delight. But to say 2018’s “The Crimes of Grindelwald” was “disappointing” cannot express how useless a film it was.
“The Secrets of Dumbledore” is not as bad, but it’s not exactly good, and definitely nowhere near as likable as the original. Thus, “stuck in the middle” also aptly describes where this one falls on the enjoyment/quality scale for this series.
Things are so off course in the new film that I was wondering from whence the principal villain Grindelwald came, even though his name was in the title of the second film.
More than likely, that’s because of the casting change. Johnny Depp (over) played the evil wizard that time around. (Depp’s legal problems put an end to plans for him to reprise the role). Here, it is Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who has a face that probably often made his mother nervous. He is a terrifying presence, and probably the best part of this picture.
But there is so much going on, it’s actually hard to tell.
Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches. They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.
Once again, Redmayne is relegated (it seems) to a supporting character to the bloated cast of good witches and bad wizards and vice versa. And after hundreds of new additions were brought on last time, hundreds more are added this time. And there are new storylines, including illegitimate children – these are “The Secrets of Dumbledore”, of course – long lost family blood lines, super-duper magical creatures, rekindled romances, and elections and lobbying and negotiations, and weddings. It’s got everything.
And yes, there are indeed fun visual effects. But unless you feel that an infinite number of scenes of witches pointing wands at each other in battles is cool, most of this will seem highly unnecessary.
For me, “The Secrets of Dumbledore” is like World Cup Cricket (my apologies to fans of the sport). Plenty people are excited about it – those watching and participating. And there are tons of things happening. Balls are flying! Stuff is getting hit! People are running around! And it’s going on for hours! And you’re just like, “Wow! What the heck is happening? And why?”
And just like that Stealers Wheel song, “I don’t know why I came here tonight. I’ve got the feeling that something ain’t right”. “Trying to make some sense of it all. But I see it makes no sense at all”. “Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor? I don’t think that I can take any more”
It’s time to get unstuck from these no longer fantastic beasts!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.