Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol. Directed by David Yates.
When not decrying cancel culture, making life harder for the trans community, or bellyaching about whatever else bothers her, J. K. Rowling occasionally writes stuff. Her previous screenplay, 2018’s disappointing Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, was the Attack of the Clones of the Wizarding World, and now thanks to Potter film screenwriter Steve Kloves we get Revenge of the Sith.
The Secrets of Dumbledore picks up where we left the world of magic: new Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is working for Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to stop the rising power of Gellert Grindelwald (now Mads Mikkelsen), who holds shock Dumbledore Credence Barebone aka Aurelius Dumbledore (Ezra Miller) as a weapon. All this happens to coincide with the United Federation of Wizards election, and the feeling that Gwindelwald’s influence might be infiltrating the magic world.
Mired in controversy, this third installment has a lot riding against it. Drafting in Kloves is clearly some kind of a salvage job after the scatterbrained writing of the previous installment, which managed to be thin on story, but heavy on plotting. Kloves brings some of his ability to meld the bigger arcs with the story of the film and so far this is narratively the most satisfying of the three. Not only this, but given Ezra Miller has become somewhat slap-happy, Johnny Depp was fired after losing a libel case and Rowling is hellbent on ruining her own reputation, poor director David Yates would be forgiven for abandoning ship.
Not unlike the Star Wars franchise, the world is much more interesting than any one person’s interpretation, and Yates is a stylish filmmaker. This is pretty thin on the ground beasts-wise, particularly compared to the previous two. This time we only really get a deer-type animal that can sense a pure heart that is used in elections, and weird dancing scorpion crab things that guard a prison.
Much of the cast is perfectly fine; Redmayne is all nervy ticks and lisping, and while he gets a few moments of emotion Dan Fogler is still the funny fat one. Law’s choice to do a weird accent presumably to ape the voice of Michael Gambon is strange since his own voice is so soothing, and would work perfectly for the man who would become Headmaster.
The difference in Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald and Depp’s is night and day. While Depp opted for a hooka smoking, frosty-haired glam rock star, replete with one eye distractingly coloured, Mikkelsen’s is a much more intimidating baddie. Mikkelsen tones all of it down, his hair slick, streaked with white, his dress sense more formal, and his heterochromatic eye much less in-your-face. He’s a villain of intense calm making him all the more intimidating.
Jessica Williams is also fantastic as witch Eulalie Hicks, and fills some of the void left by Katherine Waterstone – demoted because she spoke out against Rowling. Williams has to hold up the side for women in the film – and does it well – since Waterstone’s Tina is downplayed, and Alison Sudol’s Queenie along with Victoria Yeates’ Bunty are given little to do. Even Poppy Corby-Teuch’s villainous Vinda looks like she could be better if given the chance.
The political aspect, which was always just out of view of Harry and his friends, is front and centre in this film and the fact that world the series has pivoted into globe-trotting adventures that show the various countries and their magic is one of the better aspects. The USA is the first, France is the second. This time we get a trip to Berlin, naturally, for some Nazi parallels and the grand ceremony atop a mountain monastery all making for some fantastic world building.
Ultimately though, the film does feel like it’s playing two games, setting things up for another part while also trying to tie things up in case this film tanks. What is good is good, and what is annoying is really annoying. What the film shows is that Rowling might be a good novelist, and have interesting world-building ideas, but she can’t write screenplays. Perhaps for part four, if indeed there is one, she should just write an outline and let Kloves do the heavy lifting since what works is so clearly his stuff and the work of Yates strong direction.
It should be noted that this film is explicit about Dumbledore and Grindlewald being in love, it’s said several times between the two and that marks it as an improvement over the previous two adding fire to the Kloves is good narrative. The fact that it’s taken this long for the only gay characters to actually say anything regarding their sexuality, however, is embarrassing.