As the middle chapter in a five-movie franchise, Jude Law’s new movies suffers from an acute case of “What was the point?”.
Booting Johnny Depp out of the Harry Potter prequel series Fantastic Beasts and replacing him with Mads Mikkelsen in The Secrets of Dumbledore was absolutely the correct decision.
You can make the choice all about his off-screen dramas and holding celebrities to account, but what it did for the franchise was reset the character in a way that works better for the story.
Depp’s portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald in the first two Fantastic Beasts movies was that of a maniacal cult leader, with an air of the unhinged about him.
It’s not an unexpected choice on the surface as villains are often caricatures but there was something core to the character the filmmakers wanted audiences to hook into – the relationship between Grindewald and Albus Dumbledore, the pure-hearted wizard played in the prequel series by Jude Law.
There was nothing about Depp’s creepy and repellent version of Grindelwald that hinted why Dumbledore had fallen deeply in love with him, even as a youthful folly. And you often wondered if Depp thought he was back in a Tim Burton movie with his over-the-top antics.
Mikkelsen’s performance is a course correction. His characterisation is that of a grounded but purposeful demagogue whose temperance helps him pretend he’s rational and worthy. That makes him more dangerous.
It’s much easier to draw a line back from this version of Grindelwald to someone with whom Dumbledore would’ve entered into a blood pact.
Perhaps this shift in characterisation sounds like a small thing for a reportedly $200 million franchise spectacle that runs for two hours and 20 minutes but it’s fundamental, because without it, there would’ve been no purpose to The Secrets of Dumbledore.
As the third instalment in a five-movie series, The Secrets of Dumbledore is the middle chapter and suffers from an acute case of “what was the point?”.
The plot involves a rare, soul-revealing mythical creature called a qilin, and an attempt to stop Grindelwald from being elected Supreme Head of the global wizarding community.
Dumbledore’s scheme involves “confusing” the villain who has foresight of what’s coming, and that translates to a fairly confusing movie in which you’re never quite sure why certain actions were taken.
But if screenwriters Steve Kloves and J.K. Rowling are content enough to wave it off as “confusing” Grindelwald, that just tells us it’s not worth the investment of our time of figuring it out.
What The Secrets of Dumbledore really wants from its audiences is open-mouthed awe at the extravagantly staged set-pieces that are as heavy on CGI effects as it is on the thrills – as long as you can appreciate them as almost stand-alone sequences that seem to have no greater meaning in the story, they are impressive.
Because of its frenzied pace, it seems like a lot “happens” as Dumbledore’s crew (Eddie Redmayne, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, William Nadylam and Victoria Yeates) rush from magical scenario to magical scenario but when you boil it down at the end, nothing actually happened, there’s barely even any set-up for the next two films.
The only story beat of note is one character development that hinged on fans buying into Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s connection.
That’s why it was so important for Law and Mikkelsen to deliver on the emotional goods. Law does the heavy lifting with a performance that brings the right amount of pathos without veering into sentimentality. And everyone else looks like they’re at least having fun even if most of the characters get a short shrift, including Ezra Miller’s Credence and Nadylam’s Yusuf Kama.
The Secrets of Dumbledore is a solid bounce-back after the woeful yet somehow forgettable Crimes of Grindelwald, but it’s far from a necessary entry in the Harry Potter universe.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is in cinemas now
Originally published as Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore suffers from ‘what was the point?’