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Davis Journal

Movie Guru: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ a return to form for the series

Apr 15, 2022 10:40AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

At least it’s better than the last “Fantastic Beasts” movie.

Though it never quite manages to justify its existence, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” does manage to course correct from the grim slog that came before it. This is due in large part to the welcome return of sweetness, humor, and a considerably higher dose of the titular fantastic beasts. While the story is still overly complicated and distracted by the nuances of wizardly politics, there’s some genuine enjoyment to be found.

Unfortunately, that’s after a little bit of an abrupt start. The movie takes for granted that the audience remembers everything about the last two movies and everything ever written about Dumbledore’s life, dropping us right into the story without any kind of exposition. Various plots from the last two movies are continued, along with a new quest for a magical creature that was once used to choose the leaders of the wizarding world.

Though it’s little more than a convenient plot device, it also allows Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to spend some real time with the magical animals he loves so much. His character works best when he’s allowed to be the Wizard Steve Irwin, and one of the funniest sequences of the movie comes when he’s given the chance to do just that. More humor comes from giving Newt’s muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) more to do. Fogler is a delight every moment he’s onscreen, and this movie makes much better use of him than the last one did. He’s more of a main player than ever before, and thankfully he hasn’t lost even a little bit of his comic timing.

He also hasn’t lost any of his sweetness, particularly when it comes to his relationship with his currently estranged girlfriend, Queenie (Alison Sudol). Though their relationship isn’t the main part of the story, every interaction between the two of them were perfectly pitched. Add a wonderful performance by Sudol, who did an excellent job overcoming some of the pitfalls the plot handed her, and they were easily the heart of the movie.

Her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) might have also been involved in that emotional heart, both with Queenie and Tina’s prospective boyfriend Newt.  Unfortunately, the once-major character was in less than five minutes of the movie, thrown in at the last moment with only a few lines of dialogue. Though no official reason is given for this, it’s hard not to notice that this happened after Waterston started speaking out about J.K. Rowling’s political choices. Retaliation by Rowling seems the most likely cause, and the absence damages the movie.

Johnny Depp’s absence, on the other hand, is welcome. Mads Mikkelsen is a much better Grindelwald, and certain scenes with him and Dumbledore (Jude Law) simply wouldn’t have worked with Depp in their place. Still, he and his people take up too much of the plot, and the movie still hasn’t quite managed to make me care about his and Dumbledore’s past.

Still, there are some moments in the movie that generate real magic. That’s more than I’ve been able to say about the “Fantastic Beasts” series for awhile now.

Grade: Three stars

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected]