FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE: 3 STARS. “not all that magical.”
Four years after the last entry in the Wizarding World franchise, the Great Cheekbone Swap unfolds in theatres this weekend as the zygomatically blessed Mads Mikkelsen takes over for former malar bone favorite Johnny Depp in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”
Set in the 1930s the real, or Muggle, world is preparing for World War II. In the Wizarding World a battle of a different sort is brewing. Gellert Grindelwald (Mikkelsen), dark wizard and former love interest of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), has returned after creating worldwide chaos with a renewed belief in wizarding superiority and a plan to create a new Wizarding World Order.
Cleared of his crimes by the International Confederation of Wizards (ICW), Grindelwald’s first step toward world domination comes with a plan to steal the (ICW) election and take control. He wants to burn down the Muggle world. “There’s nothing you can do to stop me,” he tells his former lover Dumbledore.
As Grindelwald’s storm brews, Dumbledore recruits British Ministry of Magic employee Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and company—including returning characters like older brother
Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), brave baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and assistant Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates)—to pick up their wands and do battle. The stakes are high. Dumbledore thinks it is the biggest threat to both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds in a century. “Things that seem unimaginable today,” he says, “will seem inevitable tomorrow.”
Politics in the Wizarding World, it seems, are just as fraught as they are in ours.
If you go see “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” for a Harry Potter-esque magic fix, you’re in luck. The movie has spectacular visuals that bring the wizarding to life, some mystical creatures, like cute dragons who can identify the pure at heart, killer books and a suitcase that sprouts legs and walks.
It’s filled with CGI wonder, but so heavily laden with effects that the characters play second fiddle to the bits and bytes. It’s top of the line work but after a while it becomes smothering. You crave something organic, but this is the Wizarding World and it’s all an illusion.
The story has an old-fashioned action adventure feel, but like the CGI, it feels overdone. The big moments are huge, accompanied by a swelling orchestral score. But even the small moments are big. A simple story of world domination is padding and cajoled into a sprawling two hour and twenty-minute running time, populated by many, many characters, most of whom don’t have much to do.
Under the watchful eye and sweeping cameras of “Harry Potter” veteran director David Yates, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is a big, handsome movie all about magic but, unfortunately, doesn’t feel all that magical.