Taking place over one year since the very first 'Fantastic Beasts' entry, 'The Secrets Of Dumbledore' closely follows the famed Hogwarts Professor (Jude Law), who knows the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, due to a blood pact made with him as a teenager, he entrusts Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a team of wizards to head up a dangerous mission during a time of deep unrest within the wizarding community. The next leader of the wizarding world is about to be chosen, but who will it be?
Let it be known that, as a huge 'Harry Potter' fan, this reviewer approached 'The Secrets Of Dumbledore' with some mild hesitation. The previous two 'Fantastic Beasts' entries thoroughly failed to make any sort of lasting impression, and with everything going on with J.K. Rowling (who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Kloves), it wasn't something that sparked much excitement inside. However, for all of its controversial behind-the-scenes happenings, the third entry in the fantasy series does genuinely deliver on something we haven't seen thus far in the prequel series: a sense of fun.
Following on from 'The Crimes Of Grindelwald', which took place mainly in Paris, the action moves to another European city, this time around it's Berlin. Setting the fantasy in Germany doesn't seem to be an accident, considering the country's historic past, and there are rumblings within the German Ministry Of Magic that causes concern for Scamander and his fellow do-gooders. Grindelwald is also keen to get his hands on "the most purest of creatures" in order to forsee his future.
With that, it's humbling to see the series called 'Fantastic Beasts' actually lean into its title and have a magical creature as one of the pivotal points of the adventure. Doing so brings Scamander front and centre again, after his relatively forgetful appearance in the series' predecessor.
As far as the team who are brought together to take down Grindelwald and his growing followers (which includes Alison Sudol's Queenie and Ezra Miller's Credence), the group dynamic is brought to life with the inclusion of new cast member Lally. Played by Jessica Williams, her introduction into the universe is comical, and thanks to her quick-witted nature and old-timey accent, she delivers some pretty spellbinding moments while paired up with the group's muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler). Scamander's assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates - who really looks like Holland Taylor in those posters and previews) also steps up to the plate for a much more central role; while Theseus (Callum Turner) and Yusuf (William Nadylam) return to round out the troupe.
In a series bursting full of powerful female characters, a franchise that is also written by a woman, it's perplexing that we've had to wait three movies to get a fully thought-out character such as Lally. Katherine Waterston, who plays Tina, hasn't really lived up to her potential on-screen yet, and here she's sadly been sidelined into a cameo appearance. Her on-screen sister Queenie is the more memorable of the two, but again the character is very much a linchpin romantic symbol between muggles and wizarding folk.
Having been the main protagonist in the first 'Fantastic Beasts', Redmayne's Scamander felt like he was ever-so-slightly forgotten about in 'The Crimes Of Grindelwald'. This issue has been remedied for 'The Secrets of Dumbledore', however, and he and his on-screen brother have a particularly fun moment together during the film's second act; the quirky character heads up one of the most memorable scenes in the entire film.
As far as Mads Mikkelsen taking over from Johnny Depp as the main antagonist of the series, the more human approach that he brings to the character is so much more believable and also more in check with the franchise. Depp's interpretation felt too, excuse the term, "Hollywood blockbuster", concocted literally because of his previous arsenal of impressions and characterisations. Eight 'Harry Potter' movies proved that a bad guy with no nose, as outlandish as it may seem, can still be terrifying. A Grindelwald with frosted tips though? Snore. Mikkelsen with his grey streak of hair, slightly mismatched eyes and grounded interpretation, is a very welcome addition that fans are sure to get behind.
Jude Law and his ever-growing beard takes a second attempt at capturing the essence of the famed wizard who always has a glint in his eye - and he succeeds. It's no wonder why Law's Dumbledore is front and centre in all of the promotional material, as his smoke and mirrors approach lends to the mystery of the storyline. Dumbledore rarely lets you in on his plans until the very last minute, and this characteristic ensures the film ploughs forward while keeping us (and his helpers) wondering what's next. However, in 'Fantastic Beasts' four and five, it's about time Dumbledore begins to dip into his love of colourful wizard's robes and ditches this grey three-piece suit get-up.
There's even a handful of references to his past relationship with Grindelwald; now, while there certainly could have been more, we're just happy that there's finally the presence of an LGBTQ+ character in a 'Potter' film (and not one that's added as a footnote afterwards).
All of the exploits of the two hour and 20 minutes adventure come to a head in the third act, following an enjoyable scheme concocted by Dumbledore and involving his team of heroes. The big finale becomes a little more convoluted than is necessary, but on the whole, it's the most impressive ending of the series so far.
A film with more heart, more magical creatures, all topped off with a fun cast, 'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore' will impress both fans of the series and 'Potter' fans who have been burned by the creator's personal views. If you're able to tune out all of the outside noise, you'll find yourself being transported to a pretty magical world after all.