April 15 saw the release of ”Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” the newest installment of the "Harry Potter" film franchise’s spinoff/prequel series. However, it might be time to reconsider a new title that reflects this lackluster entry into the series.
The film stars Jude Law as the titular (and younger) Professor Dumbledore, Eddie Redmayne as series protagonist Newt Scamander and Mads Mikkelsen filling in for Johnny Depp as villain Grindelwald.
The premise continues the story arcs introduced in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and continued in “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” exploring the enmity between Albus Dumbledore and the recast antagonist. That is to say this movie expands on a history briefly touched on in the final book in the "Harry Potter" series written by JK Rowling.
The story mostly focuses on a great deal of political subterfuge among the wizarding government based out of Berlin, Germany. Some plot threads from the previous entry get resolved while others go unexplained.
The film — like the spinoff series — is kind of all over the place. While it is tightly written in some areas, it is not so thorough in others, leaving a few “how … what … why” inquiries into the motives, decisions, events and resolutions of the story and its characters.
The movie ends on a rather resolved note but the goal — for the story and studio (Warner Bros.) — is to segue into the next movie. Franchises are big business and Warner Bros. planned a five-picture series, which makes it already seem like too little butter scraped over too much bread.
The fictional textbook upon which the series is based and the first film was named was a travelogue of the myriad magical creatures located in various parts of the world. It wasn’t a globe-trotting spy game adventure.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s challenging to identify the main protagonist. The core "Harry Potter" movies made it clear — the hero’s name was in the title. But this series starts with Redmayne as the protagonist who eventually gets sidelined while the focus falls on Dumbledore.
Then there’s the recasting of Grindelwald. While Mikkelsen is a strong choice and a fine actor, this didn’t feel like the right fit for him and it doesn’t feel like the same character at all. It’s understandable that Warner Bros. hired him after Depp became persona non grata due to his legal embattlements with ex-wife Amber Heard.
However, Depp’s absence leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth given the fact that the weekend of the film’s premiere saw Depp's vindication in court regarding the (mostly) false abuse allegations Heard aimed at him over the last few years.
It also hasn’t helped that Ezra Miller — one of the film’s recurring stars — has been arrested at least twice in Hawaii in the last month, begging the question, 'Is bad press still good press?'
The opening weekend gross is another factor as well. It’s the weakest opening in the franchise’s history. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” — touted by many commentators as the least enjoyed of the core films — had a higher opening gross of $88.3 million to “Fantastic Beasts 3’s” dismal $43 million.
Of all the unanswered questions plaguing audiences, such as “where did Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s fight take place” or “why does Grindelwald look so different,” the real unanswered question is: Can this film franchise ever get its momentum back?
But like all things from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, answers will come in time.