Yikes! The wheels have been loose for a while on JK Rowling’s proposed five-film sequence set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but the third instalment rings plentiful changes in an effort to re-connect with audiences who seem to be rapidly falling out of love with the whole magical concept. Rowling’s advocacy for women’s rights seems to have alienated those who consume their news via Twitter sound-bites, star Johnny Depp has dropped out due to his own courtroom agonies, and Ezra Miller’s arrest for disorderly conduct, the latest in a series of threatening public behaviours, swiftly removed him out of the publicity whirl. In short, it’s been anything but a Wizarding World, but is the third instalment of the Harry Potter spin–off any good to watch?
Well, it’s the best of the three films so far, but that’s not saying a great deal. The opening film was little more than a busy prologue, but the leaden follow-up The Crimes of Grindelwald proved a turn-off for audiences, with little kid-friendly action and lots of gloomy foreshadowing of Depp as the franchise’s big bad. He’s been abruptly replaced as dark wizard villain Gellert Grindelwald by safe pair of hands Mads Mikkelsen, who we first in a café, meet sharing reminiscences about his gay past with his one-time lover Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). For Rowling to lead the entire film by aggressively outing the sexual orientation of one of her characters feels like something is bent out of shape here. There wasn’t much evidence that being in the closet was part of Dumbledore’s make-up in the original films and the revelation feels somewhat tacked on and patronising. Dumbledore and Grindelward feud, although can’t actually fight due to some agreement, and caught in the middle of their stuttering conflict is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), his battered suitcase of silly creatures and various other characters (Jacob Kowalski? Tina Goldstein? Nope, me neither…) barely established in the first two films.
Probably the most coherent of the three Fantastic Beasts movie to date, David Yates’ film takes the action from China to Berlin to Bhutan via a few scenes in Hogwarts, but it all just looks like the usual standing-around-in-front-of-green -screen phoned-in read-throughs. The plusses here are Colleen Atwood’s immaculate costumes, the beasts, which do have a bit more magic to them that the menagerie featured in say Dolittle, a reprise of Maggie Smith’s schoolmistress character, now played by Fiona Glascott, and a character called Bunty. The minuses are far too many random characters, a deeply confusing narrative for novices, and a lack of much that might be considered kid friendly or family content; there’s no children’s angle on this complex and adult story of international intrigue and conspiracy, and it’s hard to see exactly who this film would please.
With banquet assassinations, election manipulation, necromancy, and wizarding war crimes to cover, the business of The Secrets of Dumbledore attempts to forge a fresh connection with Harry Potter fans who have grown up, but looks likely to only ensnare a dwindling percentage of that large audience. A few breadcrumbs for that audience may be enough to maintain their interest, but this feels like the last hurrah for a tent-pole franchise that was somewhat less than magical from the get-go.