“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” – Brené Brown
If the Fantastic Beasts franchise has taught me anything it’s that “lightning in a bottle”, in this case the Harry Potter movies, are a genuine rarity in cinema. While these movies aren’t bad, quite enjoyable actually, they have never evoked that same kind of wonder or magic that the original eight managed to conjure. For myself and most millennials, we grew up with the Harry Potter saga as it was released one by one in theaters. It was a decade-long commitment we were more than happy to go along with. So it would be unfair to not take into account that for my generation at least, the Harry Potter franchise had the benefit of being released during our youth, during our upbringing. Fantastic Beasts is trying to recapture that essence with fully grown adults which is far more difficult.
I try to imagine if these movies would work at all if it weren’t for the original eight. I’m not so sure. In the brief spurts of really great moments, it’s hard to separate these scenes from the era of Harry Potter and Voldemort. Any interest I have in learning what Dumbledore’s secrets are stems from the history of the original stories. Realizing the impact of Credence’s true identity is contingent on knowing, and most importantly, caring who certain other characters are. I think this is where the Fantastic Beasts franchise is seriously handicapped. They simply cannot exist without the original saga.
The best movies in a line of sequels and prequels are the ones that can stand alone. I think of my favorite film, Blade Runner 2049, and the idea that while it is very much a continuation, aka a sequel, it’s a story that has the distinction of being its own entity. It is a story that establishes itself while placating our desires of nostalgic giveback. It incorporates rather than forcing involvement. Fantastic Beasts’ entire existence is based on our desire to go back to an already established world with familiar characters. This is just my opinion of course, but it’s why I’m convinced these movies will never work half as well as the originals. There are others faults to its name, I’ll get to those shortly.
What do these movies do well? I think the cast is impeccable from lead to background. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander can at times feel distant, a bit emotionless, but the moments in between he truly shines as a likable, eccentric lead who embodies the very definition of loyal and determined. His friend and my favorite character of the Fantastic Beasts, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski is the heart of this entire franchise. He is silly and certainly not the traditional hero type, he is still every bit a hero and unknown to himself, just as capable as the rest. His bravery is a trait he must find and desperately grasp as he faces adversity in the wake of his massive fear and doubt. And he delivers despite his apprehensions and does so every single time.
The elephant in the room is the unjust recasting of Johnny Depp. Taking over the role is the heroically villainous character actor, Mads Mikkelsen who even though he shouldn’t be in this movie as this character, circumstance aside, he is as engaging as ever. It’s best to remember his opportunity to play Grindelwald is a domino effect of choices outside his control or involvement. He simply fulfills a need that is, reasons aside, a vacant role.
Unfortunately his role isn’t one destined to be remembered in the same breath as Voldemort. Not even close. Through no fault of his own, Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald isn’t anything beyond a stand-in villain. The story needed a bad guy, insert Grindelwald. He is rarely intimidating, at most he is stereotypically evil doing bad things that villains tend to do. The character doesn’t stand out like he should as someone who is such a presence in the life of Dumbledore and who he is destined to become. Mads Mikkelsen is fine, he’s just been given a role that so far hasn’t amounted to much even three movies in. Voldemort is a Carolina Reaper, Grindelwald a hot sauce packet from Taco Bell.
And this is my biggest gripe with all three Fantastic Beast movies, The Secrets of Dumbledore being no exception, is the wasted potential of its greatest characters. From an underwhelming Grindelwald to a criminally underutilized Jacob Kowalski, Fantastic Beasts has a tendency to throw its best features by the wayside. These are characters I want to know more about and to see more of but so far haven’t had the privilege.
And as for the titular hero, Dumbledore himself. Jude Law is warm and welcoming as the Professor always was with Harry and his friends. But time and time again he proves his welcoming nature is not to be confused for weakness. He is one of the greatest wizards to ever live and demonstrates this when necessary. However, if the title is to be taken literally, he is supposed to be a man of secrets fated to be discovered. One of his biggest secrets was revealed long before these movies even existed. I would say his biggest revelation is learning what exactly happened to his sister and why he blames himself for her untimely end. Beyond this, he pretty much equates to the impact of his wasted villain counterpart, Grindelwald. They both just kind of show up and say things and everyone around them does their bidding. Fantastic Beasts and its sequels, like many of its characters, are wasted potential. I can appreciate them to a point, but so much of it falls short of what could have been.
Rated PG-13 For: some fantasy action/violence
Runtime: 142 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Dan Fogler
Directed By: David Yates
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 6.5/ Acting: 8.5/ Directing: 7/ Visuals: 8
OVERALL: 6.5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Take it or leave it.
Check out the trailer below:
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