I feel like most of Dumbledore’s secrets were let out in the original Harry Potter books. I mean, he was a man of secrets, which is what made him interesting. He conspired with Snape to entrap Voldemort. That’s a big secret. He set up Harry as the sacrificial offering. That is a big secret. We already knew about him and Grindelwald. We already knew from the other two unfortunate Beasts movies that Credence was a Dumbledore.
Not a lot of secrets left. Reminds me of Victoria, she doesn’t have any secrets left either because she never wears clothes. But that is a different critique.
That is one of two negative aspects of this film — there were no surprises. There was no compelling narrative force for this film. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of The Rise of Skywalker, they just put it out there to be done with it. No original ideas, no real loose ends, no compelling end-all confrontation.
The second critique is the the writing for this movie was atrocious. I say this so often now, but seriously, Hollywood, come talk to me. Buy me a skinny cinnamon dulce latte or a couple of breakfast tacos and I’ll give you tons of ideas and some biting dialogue to boot. The worst offense in the writing, IMHO, is the serious lack of transitional dialogue. The movie jumps from scene to scene without any kind of reason. Why is he being arrested? How does this election work? Why are they meeting on a train? Why does Dumbledore give that guy a wand? The characters also don’t interact very well. There are two main characters in this little series, Newt and Dumbledore, and their interactions are stiff and compulsory. In fact, they are so bad I wondered if there was some kind of restraining order between the two actors — Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne — and they had to film in separate shifts and use a green screen.
But let’s use that to jump to a couple of positives about the story. The acting was very good. The aforementioned stiffness was not the fault of the actors, it was totally on the script. But there is some wonderful acting in here. Dan Fogler, in my opinion, is far under utilized. He makes no logical sense as a muggle in the film, but he is fun to watch. Jude Law is very believable as Dumbledore, and Mads Mikkelsen is a great Grindelwald, even though the reasons for Johnny Depp’s departure from the franchise is completely bogus, it is an upgrade. Mikkelsen is born to play bad guys — my favorite turn for him is as the villain in Casino Royale. So good. Jessica William was a pleasant addition, but again, the script shackled her. But let’s talk about the biggest problem for this movie: TINA is AWOL?
The only character in this iteration of the Harry Potter world I really enjoyed seeing on screen was that of Tina, played by Katherine Waterston. She is practically non-existent, and the film suffers for it.
But again the acting was solid. So too were the visuals. It was a lovely movie. There was an elegance to the dress, the feel, the aesthetics that were nice. In this regard the movie had a dignity which elevated it. It felt like they’d taken some cues from Downton Abbey. However, even here there is some criticism. The one thing fans would have really wanted to see was more of the one place we really care about: Hogwarts. All we really get are outside shots or single room scenes. We’ve got to find a way of seeing these people in Hogwarts. Why can’t we see Dumbledore actually teaching a class instead of the ‘can you cover my class for me?’ nonsense. Again, this is a failure of script.
Now, let’s talk about issues related to this movie. There are many, but let’s do three.
- First, there is the homosexual affair between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. This is not news, as it has been known since the books. I mean, anyone who didn’t get that from the books just didn’t want to. There was nothing torrid in the movie — no scenes of them in bed together, or even kissing to my knowledge, but the movie does lean into the relationship in a very heavy way. It doesn’t skirt it. As a Christian pastor who takes the Bible seriously, this is something I can’t condone as a relational choice, but as a reflection of humanity it is pretty accurate. Parents with young children may find this confusing to them, but with older children it might be a good chance to talk about these issues, because believe me, if you don’t, someone else will. Dumbledore, and his character, reflect perfectly what I have observed — most families have an uncle or an aunt who never married but had a ‘roommate’ or who never married and it was never talked about, not during my earlier years at least, but people knew. That is the way I feel this reflection of a relationship from the 1930s looks in both the muggle world and the wizarding world. The world seems different now. There are not any more or fewer homosexual people than there ever have been. What is different is there is less incentive to hide it or use euphemisms.
- Second, this film tries very, very hard to turn Grindelwald into a Donald Trump caricature. A person doesn’t have to look very hard to see such themes as election claims, criminal investigations, bullying, and manipulation of media. Indeed, electioneering is really the plot of the whole film. The Donald Trump tie is made more overt in the timeline — I believe these events take place in 1932, the very year Hitler came to power in Germany, which is where most of the movie takes place. Because it is so clear, the movie fails to do any meaningful social commentary other than virtue signally. Again, the script is sloppy in this regard. Nuance is so much better with things like this. I am all in favor of political commentary in art – left and right – I just would like for it to be done a little better.
- Third, you can’t talk about a Harry Potter film without the incredibly uproarious controversies surrounding J.K. Rowling. Her ongoing offensive in favor of women against transgendered men is a singular act of bravery. I fully stand with her on this issue. Her politics on this will have an impact on the box office of this movie because younger people have written her off in their over-a-cliff desire to affirm just about everything without logically thinking things through. Who knows how it will stand in the future or will wash out, but I suspect Warner Brothers was contractually required to keep her on, otherwise there is no way Hollywood would have touched her. She is as forbidden as Voldemort was. Which is irony, considering the hoorays she had for creating Dumbledore as a gay man. Curious.
A few miscellaneous things. I watched this with the youngest sprout. She wasn’t impressed with Dumbledore’s beard — Jude Law’s beard — in the film. I told her to attack any man’s beard is to attack every man’s beard. I actually think Law’s beard looked awesome — and I mean that in the most heterosexual way possible — and reminds us Dumbledore didn’t always have the flowing white shock of hair and the eccentric beard that I someday hope to have.
The best scene in the movie is the dungeon scene with the lobster scorpion creatures. They look like what I imagine the lobstrosities on the Western Sea that afflicted Roland in the Stephen King Dark Tower novels. The most powerful scene is the very first one, of Dumbledore and Grindelwald in the restaurant.
They left it open for more — in several different ways — but I hope they euthanized this thing for a while. Do a Star Trek with it — let it lie for a while, give it some fresh blood later, try out a Netflix TV show or Paramount or something, and try to start over with something new — a period piece in the 50s around McGonagall maybe on assignment in Ecuador or India, Hagrid’s childhood, or maybe even — something contemporary that isn’t about Harry Potter or his family — but a student at Hogwarts discovers a trinket or emblem or something. Then there is the never ending possibilities of Neville Longbottom. I’m just saying — freshen it up a bit.
One more thing (and this is a late edit after the original posting because I thought of it while cooking dinner). I have completely given up on trying to figure out when these people wear he robes and when they don’t. In the books, the original books, it was pretty much assumed that was all they wore. Now, in the films, it seems like just clothes–and very fashionable clothing at that. But I don’t think there was a single wizard’s robe in this whole movie. Tsk Tsk.
This is not a bad movie. it is not a great movie either. It is better than the Crimes of Grindelwald, and probably about even with Fantastic Beasts except the first Beasts had a better script that was delightful all by itself. In other words, enter at your own risk, and don’t expect much.