I’ve never read any of bestselling author J.K. Rowling’s books, and maybe going in knowing nothing about the plot provided a buffer for “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” Most of these characters are new to me, and I barely remembered many of them from previous films in the series. But I was enchanted by this dark, surprisingly adult tale of brotherly love, man’s desire for power, and wizardly magic.
This third installment in the fantasy series (Rowling’s follow-up to Harry Potter) reveals the secret past of Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his attempts to stop the evil and powerful Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) from seizing control of the wizarding world. Dumbledore knows he can’t stop the man alone, so he calls on magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to assemble his team of witches, wizards, and Muggle baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to aid in the dangerous mission. Along their journey, they encounter mythical creatures and Grindelwald loyalists who stand in their way.
There are some enjoyable action scenes with magic wands and spells, and they’re inventive and a lot of fun. The performances are top-notch, especially from Law and Mikkelsen, with the latter stepping into the role originally played by Johnny Depp. It’s a menacing, meaningful, and complicated relationship, and both men play well off each other.
The story covers a lot of ground but it doesn’t seem overstuffed, but it’s strange to mix childhood fantasy with mature adult themes. A lighthearted scene can be shaken quickly with a dramatic change in tone in the next. This is definitely a film for older kids rather than younger ones. Parents should know that this isn’t a feel-good movie, and there are several scenes of violence depicted against animals which may disturb children as well as adults.
As far as fantasy spectacles go, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” hits the mark. With strong performances, a detailed script, a gorgeous original score by James Newton Howard, and impressive visual effects, this sequel works plenty of magic.