This was a bit of a letdown, if I’m being honest. It just didn’t deliver the epic conclusion that I was expecting. Honestly, it felt more like Part 1 of a two-part conclusion. While it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there is another upcoming installment in the franchise, at this moment I am unaware of any intentions to continue the series with this group of characters. Bearing that in mind, I must defer to my original statement: it was a bit of a letdown. In recent years, my fandom for the Wizarding World has been rekindled due my daughter’s discovery, and now obsession, for all things Harry Potter. I was especially glad when I learned that I would be able to bring her along for what I expected, at the time, to be an epic conclusion. And while the film got her stamp of approval, my approval is a little harder to receive.
When we last saw Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), he and his group barely survived a battle with Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), who’d managed to gather his supporters. Newt and gang only survived due to the sacrifice of his brother, Theseus’ (Callum Turner), fiancé Leta (R.I.P. Zoe Kravitz). Following her sacrifice, Newt, who tended to stay out of the magical politics, had chosen to stand with his brother and Dumbledore (Jude Law) against Grindelwald. In case of Dumbledore, this was more of a symbolic gesture thanks to a blood pact that prevented Dumbledore and Grindelwald from fighting one another.
As the events of this film start, Newt is dispatched on a mission on Dumbledore‘s behalf to secure a creature that will have some significance to the overall story. His mission is complicated by the arrival of Credence (remember Ezra Miller’s Credence). Moving on, the Wizarding World is divided, as Grindelwald amasses more followers and enacts his plans for Wizarding supremacy. In order to stop him, Dumbledore’s first army is assembled and dispatched. Comprised of the Scamander brothers, enemy turned ally Yusef Kama (William Nadylam), a renowned Ilvermorny Magical professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (Jessica Williams), and last but not least, Newt’s best friend and the rogue Queenie Goldstein’s (Alison Sudol) love, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler); the group attempts to thwart Grindelwald’s rising power.
So, it’s worth mentioning that based on my research this film is actually not where the franchise ends, as previously thought. In fact, there are actually two more films planned for production. This is welcome news, as it helps give much needed context for my review. As mentioned earlier, this film felt more like the latest installment rather than a conclusion to the franchise. There were several storylines that were not properly wrapped up in my opinion. With this additional knowledge, it takes some of the sting out of my critique now that I am aware that more is to come.
That said, there were still some flaws that I feel warrant addressing, such as the Credence storyline, which for the most part was diminished in this film. For the past two films, Credence’s origins have been hyped up, and the audience was led to believe in his connection to a prominent member of the franchise. It was the jaw-dropping reveal from the last film, and a source of a great deal of intrigue and skepticism. Intrigue because it provided a captivating pathway to the next film, and skepticism predominantly from hardcore fans because it did not jive with the established cannon. Either way, the addition of this subplot would have the desired effect, making sure people stayed tuned in. However, this subplot is summarily wrapped up, and after two films of intrigue, I expected it to play more of a prominent role in the overall story.
Next issue is Grindelwald himself, who did not exude the genius and menace that I was looking for. This is no failing on the part of Mads Mikkelsen, for you would only need to look at his performance as Hannibal Lecter in the NBC series to know that he is capable of both those traits. That is sometimes the trouble with stepping into a role that has been occupied by other people; you want to respect their interpretation, but that can sometimes make it difficult to make the character your own. In the case of this film, he isn’t just dealing with one interpretation, but two, as he is following what Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp have done with the character. I also do not feel that Mikkelsen was given the latitude needed to make the character his own. As is, his interpretation isn’t bad, just not sufficient for the legend that is associated with the character.
I don’t want to keep beating up on the film, but I do want to address one final issue: the inevitable battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which did not live up to expectations. I was expecting a longer sequence. If you saw the clips included in the film’s trailers, you’ve essentially seen the battle already. It was going to a buffet and sticking only to the salad bar. There was so much more to be done with this battle. The two greatest wizards of their generation are finally able to do battle, and it is basically over before it actually starts. Here is hoping for a more epic confrontation in the upcoming installments.
There were some bright spots to the film, such as Williams’ Lally Hicks, who was without question one of the most interesting addition to the series. Her introduction where she stages a mugging attempt to awaken the hero in Fogel’s Kowalski was comical as well as adding depth to Fogel’s character’s personality. There was also the addition of Richard Coyle as Aberforth Dumbledore, Albus’ younger brother. Though a bit underutilized, this addition brought intrigue and helped peel back the onion of the Dumbledore family tree. There is tension between the brothers, and it is clearly a long-festering familial issue, which is also where the film derives its name. I would have loved to see more time devoted to address the dynamic between the brothers. I think it would have provided additional emotional context.
Fantastic Beasts Secret Of Dumbledore is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an impressive average bitrate of 65 mbps. This is certainly a visually stunning film. There is also a lot of atmosphere that works to make this fit inside Rowling’s Wizarding World that began with Harry Potter. If you discover an extra level of detail and texture, you can chalk it up to a choice to film this entry at a remarkable 6K. It’s digital, but shooting above 2-3K is rare with today’s digital movies, and a lot of the reason is the f/x. And trust me, atmosphere is everything here. These films all have a decidedly gray/dark tone that can do a lot to hurt those details and rich textures. Here you get that bleak styling without sacrificing any of the other elements of the image presentation. Because this is also a period piece, there are some unique costumes and environmental texturing that is uniquely the Wizarding World. Shadow definition is crucial, and the HDR chips in to give us remarkable blacks with surprisingly high shadow definition. For the most part the f/x blend in rather seamlessly, and it’s the incredible beasts that provide the most color pop for your buck. The tiny green creature that Newt carries about with him looks stunningly vivid against the dark textured background of his jacket pocket. The beasts are in the title, and there’s good reason. They provide all of the visual bang for your buck that HDR/Dolby Vision can.
The Atmos track defaults to a pretty solid 7.1 mix. There is so much going on here that the audio presentation works hand-in-hand to keep you immersed in the often frantic moments of the film. The James Newton Howard score blends nicely with the familiar Potter musical themes, and the return to Hogwarts with its memorable theme is one of the more emotionally charged beats in the film. Dialog manages to always cut through with nice placement precision. The surrounds continually feed you the bustle of a magic circus or the sizzle of a wizard confrontation. The subs are ever-present to fill everything from the dialog to the explosive encounters that often dominate the soundscape. Credit the sound designers for allowing those quiet character moments which help to counter the pace of all of this action. The various creature sounds add life to computer-generated images, and the mix will use all of this 7.1 surround presentation to immerse you fully into this familiar world. If I have one complaint, it is that occasionally I can hear the use of a gate on the dialog. It was used to compensate for area noise, but you can really hear the gate open and close with a solid “rush” kind of sound during a line that goes quiet as soon as the line is delivered. Noise gates are fine, but ADR might have been the better way to go. This is obvious in a few exterior scenes.
The extras are found on the Blu-ray copy only.
The Dumbledore Family Tree: (8:38) This feature plays out like a biography documentary that treats the fictional character of Dumbledore as an historical subject with that kind of narration in place.
Dumbledore Through The Ages: (7:23) This profile on the beloved character uses footage from the entire franchise of Rowling’s Wizarding World. All of the players who have taken on the role have comments included here including vintage footage of Richard Harris talking about the character. Rowland herself talks about the connection she feels to the character.
Magical Or Muggle?: (4:32) The cast use ping pong paddles labeled Magical or Muggle to take a quiz to categorize several items or beasts from the film.
The Magic Of Hogwarts: (5:47) One of the film’s defining moments is going back to Hogwarts and more particularly the Great Hall. Go behind the scenes of this recreation of Hogwarts and see how the elements were reproduced. It’s mostly CG with a few practical aspects. In the Great Hall only the lines of tables are real. Cast and crew talk about how excited they were to revisit these iconic places.
Even More Fantastic Beasts: (6:24) This feature introduces you to the key creatures of the film. We get to see how they were created, from conceptual art to puppets and computer-generated images. There are a lot of layers to these beasts, and you get to see them peeled back a bit here.
Newt In The Wild: (4:46) The film opens with Newt tracking a beast in the wild. It was something the cast and crew were looking forward to doing and was originally intended to be shot out in the wild. COVID hit, and things had to be changed, but it’s nice to see Newt doing what he does in the raw for a change.
The German Ministry: (4:57) The franchise has finally given us an international flavor that the Harry Potter films didn’t provide. You now get a sense of a global community of wizards. This film takes us to 1930’s Berlin with all that was happening then.
A Dumbledore Duel: (4:00) This feature focuses on the relationship between Jude Law and Ezra Miller’s characters. The actors provide input, and we go behind the scenes for their big wand fight. It’s a lot of effort that may lead to tough decisions going forward. They just did recast Johnny Depp’s critical role because of his off-camera issues, and now they’re in the same situation both here and with the Flash character after Miller’s rather bizarre encounters with the law. Poor Warner Brothers. They just can’t catch a break. Expect to see Miller removed from the next Beasts film and also from the DC films after the release of The Flash, which might now go direct to stream.
The Candidates Dinner: (4:46) Cast and crew break down plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the gathering and wizard fights that happen here.
Erkstag Jailbreak: (4:51) Another specific behind-the-scenes feature.
Battle In Bhutan: (5:42) Another.
Deleted Scenes: (7:15) There are five with a play-all option.
The Secrets Of Cursed Child: (4:51) A look behind the scenes of the stage production Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.
Knowing what I know now, as it stands, Fantastic Beasts is a decent installment into the franchise. However, that is predicated on the next films setting up an epic conclusion. There are all the pieces needed for such a finale; things just have to be properly arranged. Just one more caveat: I expect to see Katherine Waterston back in a larger capacity in the next installment, as her role this go-around was significantly reduced, and this adventure started with Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein. I expect it to conclude with them as well.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani