Here at the Explosion Network, we are firmly against J. K. Rowling’s public support of anti-transgender sentiments, which she has expressed on social media, her website, and in her activism and support for the people and groups that spread transphobia. For a detailed account of her stance, please give Jessie Earl’s article on the matter a read.

Separating the art from the artist is a personal choice but also a luxury for those not the target of hate and bigotry. We also understand that Harry Potter and the Wizarding World has been an important part of people’s lives and something they see as bigger than the author, with many actors, filmmakers and more adding their parts to the franchise’s success. While we believe that everyone should choose whether to support this franchise, we would ask that you at the very least respect the views of those who choose not to. 

Professor Albus Dumbledore knows the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is moving to seize control of the wizarding world. Unable to stop him alone, he entrusts magizoologist Newt Scamander to lead an intrepid team of wizards and witches. They soon encounter an array of old and new beasts as they clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers.

Editing: Mark Day
James Newton Howard

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston, Victoria Yeates, Mads Mikkelsen

Director: David Yates
Screenplay: J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves
Based on: Characters by J. K. Rowling
Cinematography: George Richmond

Do you remember the episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob becomes Mayor of Springfield? The episode titled “Sideshow Bob Roberts” was the fifth episode of the sixth season of the long-running animated show and first aired on October 9, 1994. The episode sees Sideshow Bob acquitted of his criminal charges for attempting to kill Bart Simpson and his Aunt Selma and is soon put in the race to become Mayor due to his popularity among a segment of the population and through the machinations and manipulation of one of the political parties. He wins the election and uses his powers to get some measure of revenge on Bart for repeated foiling his plans before it is revealed that he only won due to election fraud. A fantastic episode of The Simpsons, one of my favourites as a kid. Now, you may be asking why I’m writing about this 27-year-old episode of tv at the start of a review of the third entry of the troubled spin-off prequel series to the Harry Potter franchise. The answer is because the two are amusingly similar.

Set in the 1930s and a few years after the events of The Crimes of Grindelwald, the film sees self-proclaimed magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) recruited by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to perform an important mission after Gellert Grindelwald’s (Mads Mikkelsen) followers attack Newt and stole a newborn magical creature, one which is held in wide regard by the wizarding community and has the ability to give people visions of the future. Together with his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), his trusted assistant Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), American Professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (Jessica Williams), the french wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt sets out to foil Grindelwald’s plan to get the wizarding world to go to war with the muggles: by becoming the Supreme Head of the International Confederation of Wizards.

After the meandering mess of a film that was The Crimes of Grindelwald, The Secrets of Dumbledore is certainly a step up but that isn’t saying a lot. The script constantly asks the characters to stumble from situation to situation with little motive other than “because Grindelwald won’t expect it” which gets old and feels a little contrived seeing as everything keeps working out for them. Victory feels a little hollow when so much of it comes down to chance. That said, at least this film feels like it is moving this entire conflict forward, with at least one significant moment, rather than treading water like the last film

There are a number of plotlines and moments you just have to accept and not think too much about, like Grindelwald getting acquitted of his crimes, the ones the second movie was named after. One of the team is asked to go undercover in Grindelwald’s following for no apparent reason other than to tease one of them turning on Newt and his friends. Then there is Credence (Ezra Miller), who remarkably goes through the same story that he has in the last two movies of learning that he is being manipulated and not who he believes he is. Mercifully for us and for the character, it seems that his story has come to an end as surely they couldn’t run this story back a fourth time.

Admittedly, there are some good elements to the film, particularly Jude Law’s performance as Albus Dumbledore which fits well with what we come to know of him later. The film frames him as this tragic figure who is destined to be alone and to watch the ones he cares about from afar due to his past relationship with Grindelwald, which make for the most interesting parts of the film. There is a scene between Law and Mads Mikkelsen, who is taking over the role with no mention of the change of actors, where they just sit and have tea which is a highlight of the film. The film also sees Dumbledore addressing some of the parts of his life that were revealed in The Deathly Hallows, in particular around his sister Ariana and his brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle). While it felt like a retread in the moment, it adds extra context to a pivotal moment in Dumbledore’s life that is sure to intrigue fans.

The rest of the cast is solid with Dan Fogler providing plenty of laughs as Jakob but also plenty of heart as he tries to win Queenie back, whom Alison Sudol does a good job of showing the internal conflict after turning to Grindelwald’s side in the last film. Eddie Redmayne continues to be good as the awkward Newt Scamander and while the dynamic between him and his brother is good, I wish they had addressed some of the events of the last film.

One of the reasons I was curious to see this film is to see the performance of Mad Mikkelsen who has played fantastic villains in Casino Royale, Hannibal and Death Stranding. In the end, he feels very underutilised with remarkably few memorable moments, save for his interactions directly with Dumbledore.

There are a few memorable sequences, particularly a prison break that features Newt and Theseus swivelling their hips to blend in with some crab-like creatures, which my audience thought was hilarious, and Picket the Bowtruckle and the Niffler attempting to help. There are also a number of duels throughout the film which seem to take place on another plane of existence, very much breaking the style that has been established in the franchise so far.

One of the best things this film has going for it is the feelings of nostalgia it elicits. The film goes back to Hogwarts, has the characters interacting with students and standing in the great hall. The Hog’s Head inn plays an important part in the film and the younger version of a well-liked character makes a small cameo that will bring a smile to Potter fans.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is going to please fans of the series and those wanting a hit of nostalgia for the wizarding world, but while it is a step up from The Crimes of Grindelwald, it is far from a must-see film. While it is hard not to imagine that Warner Bros will continue to make these films, this would actually work well as the conclusion to this spin-off series, something that may be in the best interests of everyone.

Ashley Hobley attended an advance screening of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore thanks to Warner Bros. Entertainment Australia and Event Cinemas.