Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

 

I originally wrote this review for Christian Spotlight.

 
Many years ago, when Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) was young and foolish, he and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Michaelson) made each other an unbreakable pact: to never harm each other. They sealed it in drops of blood placed into a charmed necklace. If either of them ever even thinks about attacking the other, the charm will strangle the life out of them.

 
Now that Dumbledore is older and wiser, he regrets this pact… because the Grindelwald who wanted to change the world at his side has become a violent, Muggle-hating revolutionary who wants to unleash an all-out war on Muggles and eradicate or enslave them. Since Dumbledore can’t touch him, it’s up to his intrepid band of friends to help him defeat his oldest friend and stop him from amassing power.

 
Among those determined to stop him is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the “only” magical zoologist in existence, and the author of Fantastic Beasts. He encounters Grindelwald’s followers deep in the jungle, where they attack a magical creature who has given birth to a faun and steal it from him. Though devastated by its loss, Newt discovers its twin and carries it to safety. He must protect it from Grindelwald, with the help of his friend Jacob (Dan Folger), a No-Mage (Muggle) whose bakery business is failing since the love of his life, Queenie (Alison Sudol) went to Grindelwald’s side. There, he uses her to keep an eye on the unstable Credence (Ezra Miller), who now knows he is a Dumbledore and awaits the right moment to confront Albus. Grindelwald hopes to groom him to attack his oldest friend, since he cannot do it himself. But he has even more diabolical plans in motion. Can Dumbledore’s army stop him?

 
If the plot sounds complicated, it is! There’s a lot going on, as Rowling picks up and continues storylines from the first two installments—but where the second movie had too many side characters, this one has a better handle on the important ones. We do follow a lot of ideas, but it places Newt front and center where he belongs, even though the film truly belongs to Jude Law’s Dumbledore. One of the great enigmas of the Harry Potter books, it’s wonderful to see him younger and full of zeal, but there’s also a sadness to him that Law brings to the forefront – an idealist who now knows someone he once cared about has taken a very different path. And that brings us to the main hiccup of the story.

 
Jude Law gives a nuanced performance rife with internal strife and inner meaning, matched only by the enthusiasm, sweetness, and comedic timing of Eddie Redmayne, whose Newt is a treasure. The scene where he leads an army of dangerous creatures in a crab-like dance through a prison is hilarious. His love interest, Tina, is nowhere to be seen (she does make a cameo at the end), but there’s closure for Queenie and Jacob fans, and this film brings the plot threads from earlier installments full circle. It’s a spectacular watch, full of magical creatures, 20’s atmosphere, wizard’s duels (some of them take place in an alternate dimension), and winks to book fans, including a cameo from a young Minerva McGonagall. It’s also easier to follow if you are a Potterhead, familiar with the world and its characters. The costumes and set design are gorgeous, and the score is truly memorable – it brings in the familiar Harry Potter chords, but builds a new musical arc around Dumbledore that contains some of the prettiest harmonies from the franchise.

 
But it’s not perfect. The story takes a while to get going and there are many slow sections; Rowling has a lot of characters, some of which she doesn’t need, but she keeps the story tighter this time. Her stories have always been full of good and bad characters, with strong lines between them, but these stories are darker and more adult than the Potter installments. Grindelwald is a Hitler character, bent on death and destruction against non-Purebloods, but is also manipulative and callous. His cruel treatment of innocent creatures, among them the neglected, once-abused Credence, is a bitter reminder of how evil takes, but gives nothing in return. Grindelwald cares not whom he ‘consumes’ in his path to power, but there are always good people to stand against him—and Rowling makes us care about each of these souls, as much as the lost ones. She even includes redemption and grace, in Credence’s search for belonging, love, acceptance, and family—of the kind that can only be found in Christ. He doesn’t exist in this magical world, except in its themes of good and evil. Her heroes are always good, and her villains are always bad—a distinction we desperately need in such times.

 

Sexual Content:

Dumbledore tells Grindelwald in the opening scene he never went against him, because “I was in love with you.” Later, he says the same summer “Gellert and I fell in love,” his brother also fell in love with a local girl, and that his brother did not approve of their relationship. When the bond is eventually severed between them, Gellert asks him, “Who will love you now?” We learn Credence is illegitimate, and that his mother's parents sent her away in “shame.”

 

Language:

None noted.

 

Violence:

We see wizards and a witch kill a magical creature (it lives and suffers for a while, until it dies having shed a tear for its fauns). A giant scorpion guards an underground prison and, each time the candle goes out, attacks the nearest prisoner – piercing them with a prong and dragging them down into the pit to eat them, then spitting up the ribcage and other body parts for its children to feast on; we see this happen twice. It viciously attacks Newt and his brother. Wizard duels lead to mass destruction, although it all happens in a second dimension so there’s no harm done to Muggles.

 

Other:

Some social drinking, and of course, lots of good and bad magic. Grindelwald kills a newborn creature (slits its throat, but we don’t see it, and lays it down in a pool of its own blood), then reanimates it through necromancy to bind it to his will. It’s seen as a terrible act of violence against a pure and innocent creature. He also takes away a man’s memory of his sister (whom Grindelwald killed), uses a torture curse against Jacob, and continues to emotionally manipulate Credence to attack Dumbeldore.

Charity's Novels!

Get caught up on The Tudor Throne series!