Few areas of media, arts and society are now free from polarising opinion, and that includes within the Wizarding World of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The opinions of creator (and scriptwriter) JK Rowling are well-documented. Ditto Johnny Depp, who has been replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as central villain Grindelwald. With such conflict already swirling around the films, is there any hope that new sequel The Secrets Of Dumbledore might cast a spell over audiences?
It would help if the plot wasn’t so convoluted. As before, we follow the continuing adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as he and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) work to thwart Grindelwald. Unfortunately, there are far too many other characters involved – and most of them don’t do much that actually matters. Similar to the moment in The Lord of the Rings when you realise that the eagles could have taken Frodo to and from Mordor in 1 per cent of the time, you may well feel robbed by the end. Elsewhere, the fascistic imagery that engulfs Grindelwald’s ascension – in Berlin! – feels distasteful rather than poignant, given the real-world suffering and rise of actual fascism – Le Pen, Orbán, Putin – across Europe.
The film is also ridiculously long at 142 minutes. Nor is it aided by Mikkelsen – who is excellent, and all the more unsettling for binning the pantomime shlock of Depp and instead presenting himself a little bit like a branch manager of Foxtons – slitting the throat of a deer. Rated kindly at 12A, it’s worth asking who this film is for?
And yet there is magic here. Dan Fogler as No-Maj/Muggle baker Jacob Kowalski is as ever, thoroughly entertaining. There is an extended segment involving Newt, brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and hundreds of lobsters that is laugh-out-loud funny. And there are of course the aforementioned magical animals, the best of which is the platypus-like niffler, who appears in the aforementioned scene and most of the movie’s other highlights. There’s not enough of these magical animals, but when they appear, they’re nearly always fantastic.
But the bit that provides the warmest feeling is undoubtedly the familiar sight of Hogwarts. It’s a great moment when the majestic castle slides into frame. Ultimately, we don’t spend much time there which is frustrating. Who wouldn’t want to rest their legs in the warm and comforting Great Hall when there’s such a storm raging outside?
- Director: David Yates
- Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen
- Release date: April 8