I didn’t read the Harry Potter books, but I did see the movies. Several times each, in fact, and I enjoyed them very much. I might even go so far as to categorize myself as a fan, though I certainly can’t match the level of commitment common to this particular brand. Few pop culture products can boast the rabid loyalty of Harry Potter people. They are highly knowledgeable and intensely protective of their heroes, which is why Warner Brothers created the extended Wizarding World and produced the Fantastic Beasts movies. There was simply too much support, and money, still on the table after the mainline films reached their conclusion back in 2011. Who could blame them?
Based on a 2001 guidebook by J. K. Rowling to the magical creatures that inhabit Harry Potter’s world, the Fantastic Beasts spin-off series launched in 2016 and the first film did pretty well at the box office. The second installment in 2018 did not. It wasn’t a flop, but it definitely failed to hit its benchmarks and elicited little more than a disappointed shrug from the critical press. Fast forward to 2022. Johnny Depp is out and Mads Mikkelsen is in, which is undoubtedly a good thing, but Depp was not the only problem with “the Crimes of Grindelwald”. That story lacked focus and had almost none of the good-natured charm of its predecessor. Where the small cast and lighter stakes of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” served those still hungry for more wands and spells after the Harry saga wrapped, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” tried to go too big on plot complexity and stumbled. “The Secrets of Dumbledore” picks up where that film left off, with Grindelwald attempting to force a war with the Muggles and remake the magical world in his own image.
It doesn’t take long for this new chapter to also spread itself too thin and model the least convincing habits of volume 2. There are too many characters, barely any beasts, and far too many underdeveloped plot threads. The acting, especially from Mikkelsen and Jude Law, is solid, but the script they are given makes some rather bold assumptions about how distractable and easy to please we are. Welcoming us back into a familiar realm is simply not enough, fun as it is with special effects that are a full decade better than before. No, we have been trained by the main Potter films to expect multi-dimensional people whose personal mysteries and revelations feel earned by the time we’ve spent with them, not stitched-together templates whose motivations don’t seem to matter as much as their quips. Dumbledore and his crew even take a quick trip to Hogwarts in an attempt to take advantage of our nostalgic dependencies, but the school was strangely empty and not terribly comforting as cherished home base. I’m not saying “The Secrets of Dumbledore” isn’t fun. It is, especially when the spells start flying. But in my very unpopular opinion, there is not much blood left in the turnip of this franchise. The Potter/Dumbledore saga has run its course.
There will be more movies set in the Wizarding World. Of course there will be. I just hope Warner Brothers and J. K. Rowling can move beyond stale prequels and give their devoted audience a wildly new set of characters and locations to obsess over. They will follow you anywhere, those fans, so you must transport them to someplace amazing, even if it means taking a chance on a completely different kind of story.