DIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Mads Mikkelsen, William Nadylam, Victoria Yeates, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Fiona Glascott, Richard Coyle, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Oliver Masucci, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Dave Wong, Valerie Pachner, Paul Low-Hang

RUNNING TIME: 142 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Albus Dumbledore (Law) enlists Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to lead a mission that could stop the dark wizard Grindelwald (Mikkelsen) from gaining power…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Well, I’ll give Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore this: it’s definitely better than the last one – but only slightly so. Compared to her overly-complicated script for The Crimes of Grindelwald, J.K. Rowling benefits from the return of co-writer Steve Kloves to the Wizarding World, with their script for this one being a much more focused and consequential story, one that doesn’t always add up (and we’ll explore why later on) but is at least comprehensible.

However, what kills an otherwise engaging premise inside a truly magical world with a number of intriguing characters, is the guy charged with executing Rowling’s vision.

David Yates is a terrible director. I’m sorry, but he just is. Every single one of his films, especially ones set inside the world of Harry Potter, is so awkwardly staged, flatly performed, dull to look at, and so incredibly lifeless all around, that it’s like Yates is an alien who dropped by our planet one day and decided to make several films in a stable franchise, without any idea how humans are supposed to act, or even how movies actually work. Say what you will about Rowling’s convoluted writing, but she at least has a strong imagination that other filmmakers like Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón have been able to easily replicate on the big screen; Yates, with his low-energy approach and frustratingly rote execution, continually turns what should be a thriving world of magic into a depressingly dull environment that offers none of the original appeal, and it is seriously troubling that this guy, of all the filmmakers out there, has apparently become an irreplaceable visionary for this franchise. It’s like David Yates is the addictive drug that this franchise desperately needs to wean itself off of, if it’s to have any chance of ever returning to the sense of awe and wonder that the first few initial Harry Potter movies personified.

It really is Yates’ awful direction that kills Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore for me, but the film itself – while certainly more confident than the previous entry – still isn’t particularly great, even without the grinding vision behind the camera.

Set not too long after the events of The Crimes of Grindelwald, the film sees Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruiting magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to lead a small team of witches and wizards – and one Muggle, his baker friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) – on a mission to prevent the rise of dark wizard, and Albus’ former lover, Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp) within the hierarchy of the magical world. The mission takes Newt and his gang to places like Berlin and Bhutan, with a brief stopover at Hogwarts itself, where they encounter new creatures, form new alliances, and face off against enemies both old and new.

The story for this movie – on paper, at least – isn’t that bad. Like I said earlier, Rowling presents a much less crowded and more focused tale, one with a clearer beginning, middle and end, which Kloves really seems to have mercifully reigned in after the indulgences of The Crimes of Grindelwald. However, Rowling and Kloves’ script still contains many unfortunate bumps that are hard to overlook; for one, Rowling seems to override her own inner-world logic by changing up pieces of the lore that had been established in previous books and films, which has the potential to send some of the more keenly-observant Harry Potter fans insane as their point out all the inconsistencies within this movie. More crucially, though, the film lets down many of its characters by not really giving them much character at all to play with (something which Yates’ poor direction of his actors only exacerbates). Newt Scamander is really not an engaging character, at least not when he’s supposed to be a leading figure in one of these movies, for despite Eddie Redmayne’s presence he lacks the personality and charisma to carry a franchise of this magnitude; the only character in this movie who feels like an actual human being is, once again, Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, because he at least displays some curiosity and even excitement for this world, which automatically makes him the most relatable out of everyone.

The movie works best, though, whenever either Jude Law or Mads Mikkelsen are on-screen as Dumbledore and Grindelwald respectively. It goes without saying that Mikkelsen is better in the role than Johnny Depp was (which you could honestly chalk up to pure miscasting), for he has a far more intimidating screen presence, while Law’s Dumbledore is an unexpectedly warm treat as he was in the previous film. Their rapport and genuinely interesting conflict really needs to form the focus of the two remaining Fantastic Beasts movies in development, because they have far more nuance, drama and intrigue than anything having to do with the incredibly uninteresting Newt Scamander and his equally flat mates – aside from Jacob, of course. And his cute little tree companion. Oh yes, and that funny Niffler creature. Come to think of it, if the rest of the series was just about these three characters instead, then it would maybe be a hell of a lot more magical than it currently is.

Oh, and also: please, for the love of all that is magical and fantastical, replace David Yates with a director who can actually bring at least a little bit of Rowling’s magic to the big screen. After directing seven (!) films in this franchise, surely now is the time to pass the baton onto someone else? Please? Anyone but him, please.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is a slight improvement over the messier previous entry, but only because the story and script is tighter and more focused, albeit still flawed, but it is once again David Yates’ awkward and stilted direction that once again prevents this series from reaching its full magical potential.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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