Director David Yates is once again taking audiences back to the Wizarding World with new film, Fantastic Beasts 3, the third chapter of the Harry Potter spin-off series. But, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumledore, is laden with issues that put the franchise in jeopardy.
Fantastic Beasts 3 sees Eddie Redmayne reprise his leading role as magizoologist, Newt Scamander. Starring alongside Redmayne, Jude Law returns as a young Albus Dumbledore. The film’s plot sees Dumbledore task Newt with a mission of stopping Gellert Grindelwald, now played by Mads Mikkelson, from becoming ruler of the Wizarding World and waging war against Muggles.
However, after its poorly received predecessor, The Crimes of Grindelwald, and a sizeable four year gap between films, would Yates be able to recapture the magic of this franchise? In short, no. It would seem that this was a challenge too great, as the problems that have already plagued this series are only exacerbated further with this latest sequel. Whilst not short of said problems, the predominant issue with Fantastic Beasts 3, as well as its predecessor, is the conflicting storylines that it fails to cohesively fuse together.
This spin-off series began with the premise of Newt and his titular fantastic beasts, and when the films have focused on this aspect they’ve undoubtedly been at their best. The same can be said for Fantastic Beasts 3, as the film’s high point sees Newt face off against a horde of blast-ended skrewts (a kind of scorpion/crab hybrid) in an entertaining and humorous sequence. This moment sees another fantastic beast brought to life on the big screen and shows audiences just what these films should and could have been about.
However, the insistence to shoehorn in more dramatic narratives, in this instance Dumbledore’s backstory, continues to distance the series from what it sells itself as. It wouldn’t be as detrimental if the aforementioned backstory was well-written, but this simply isn’t the case. Dumbledore’s so-called secrets are fairly bland and his story is told by way of plot devices that don’t make sense (a supposedly unbreakable blood pact) and minor characters who are conveniently used to try and connect two stories that should not co-exist.
The screenplay is as confused as audiences will be trying to keep track of all the characters. As a sequel it’s duty bound to continue the plot threads from the previous film, which only weigh down what could have been a more interesting political thriller considering the plot of this latest film. As well as this, Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s past is explored, in the loosest sense of the word. But then it also remembers that it has to be a Fantastic Beasts movie, so includes some scenes featuring magical creatures in around the already convoluted collection of plot points and characters.
In fairness to the cast, major and minor, they really are trying and largely emerge blameless in terms of the film’s failures. Your tolerance for Redmayne will certainly dictate how much you enjoy his leading performance, but his shy and soft nature does give Newt a certain charm. The problem is that he never feels like the star of his own movie, instead he feels relegated to unrelated side plots, although ironically it’s here he shines most.
The story ultimately feels like a vehicle hijacked for the Dumbledore and Grindelwald drama, which has mixed results. Law certainly demonstrates his good screen presence, returning after his cameo in the previous film. He somehow manages to have fun with the role, which seems to include giving Dumbledore an odd intermittent Irish accent. Completing the trio of major characters is Mikkelson, who takes over the reins of Grindelwald from Johnny Depp. Mikkelson is reliable as ever, these kinds of villainous roles are second nature to him, but he still can’t quite do enough to propel this instalment beyond the confines of its poor filmmaking.
The remainder of the cast, who make up the array of smaller roles, vary from being completely forgettable (William Nadylam as Yusef Kama, among others) to being sorely underused (Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski). The series’ constant need to invent and introduce new characters, or at least new to the screen, to further its two-in-one narrative, has left it with a surplus of players that it’s unsure of how to handle, botching the treatment of several in the process.
It’s really quite lucky for the film that, despite the character struggle, the cast are overall quite solid, as it’s already an overlong film that doesn’t have enough content to warrant its runtime anyway. So at least the countless scenes of exposition and setup are acted well, but this is never sufficient in making the film compelling by any means.
Conversely, the action sequences are few and far between, and whilst there are brief moments of the magic that used to be inherent to this series, for the majority of occasions they sorely disappoint. What’s most troublesome with these moments is just how dull they are, both dramatically and visually. For a film that’s set in such an exciting and interesting world, these sequences, and the film as a whole, is so lacking in colour and vibrancy. These moments are either incredibly short-lived, poorly lit or without any sense of exhilaration – and in the worst examples, all of the above. Not even the utilisation of the iconic Harry Potter theme can stir any kind of response amidst the lifeless drama and action.
So between the lazy narrative and the uninspired action, Fantastic Beasts 3 slowly builds to a predictable finale. It sports an ugly VFX setting that is repeatedly showcased in a way that demonstrates its lack of authenticity. It’s here that the characters assemble from their various subplots in acutely anti-climatic fashion and the film fizzles out as disappointingly as it began. It then doesn’t even have the decency to wrap things up quickly, drawing things out far more than necessary.
So unfortunately this latest sequel does little else but confirm that the franchise’s ability to cast a charming cinematic spell over its audience has all but vanished. Fantastic Beasts 3 is an idle and mundane extension of a story that probably should never have been told. Surely the only magic left in this franchise is a disappearing act?