[Screen It]


(2022) (Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law) (PG-13)

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Fantasy: A small group of wizards and allies try to stop an evil wizard from gaining more power and starting a war against his enemies.

Long ago, wizards Albus Dumbledore (JUDE LAW) and Gellert Grindelwald (MADS MIKKELSEN) planned to change the world, but the one-time lovers had a falling out and are now archenemies. Concerned about Gellert's nefarious plans but unable to directly stop him, Albus recruits magizoologist Newt Scamander (EDDIE REDMAYNE) to assist him.

Newt has seen Gellert's treachery firsthand, with the evil wizard's followers -- led by Credence Barebone (EZRA MILLER) -- kill a rare creature known as a Qilin and abduct its newborn. Such creatures can sense the true souls of people and thus are used to select new political leaders. And with an election coming up and Gellert being cleared of criminal charges levied against him, it's obvious what his plan is.

Beyond his assistant, Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), those who end up helping Newt include his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner); Professor Eulalie "Lally" Hicks (Jessica Williams); wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam); and muggle baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). He's particularly interested since his former lover, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), has now gone over to the dark side with Grindelwald and Jacob wants to get her back.

Using the inn run by Albus' brother, Abeforth (Richard Coyle), as their base, the rag-tag group of heroes sets out to stop the evil wizard before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

In the old days, people assumed power via the use of violence, be that through assassinations, coups, or outright war. More civilized nations eventually turned to elections, letting the masses choose their leaders. But those can also involve attacks and battles, albeit usually without any sort of traditional weaponry.

What's been weaponized, though, is information, slander/lies, ballot/vote tampering, and technology, much of which came into play in various ways in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But at least we didn't have to worry about the outcome coming down to the mystical opinion of a mythical Asian unicorn known as a Qilin.

Legend has it that such creatures would appear to signal the birth or death of a leader. Author J.K. Rowling modified that a bit by having the gentle critter able to see one's true soul and thus choose the next Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards.

Such is the plot thrust of "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" that serves as the next follow-up to 2018's "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" and 2016's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," all part of the author's Harry Potter collection. Rowling adapts her own work alongside screenwriter Steve Kloves, with director David Yates returning behind the camera, making this his seventh entry in the HP universe of wizards, muggles, and yes, fantastic beasts.

For better or worse there aren't many -- aside from the Qilin -- of the latter in this tale that takes up where the last film left off, with one fairly significant exception. And that is Mads Mikkelsen taking over the role of the film's antagonist, Gellert Grindelwald, played last time around by Johnny Depp who's now embroiled in a huge defamation case and waning Hollywood career as an A-lister.

That aside, the film will probably appease diehard fans of all things Potter, and aside from being too long and way too slow in the first act, it's a decent enough diversion. But there's no denying that as the plotline diverges into the political arena, the diminution of the captivating magic that made the original HP so special continues with this offering.

The Qilin shows up right away, as our resident magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), shows up to help with the birth of its offspring. But goons working for Grindelwald -- led by Credence (Ezra Miller) -- show up, kill the mother, and take the baby. Understanding what his former flame turned adversary is doing, but unable to thwart Grindelwald himself, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits Newt. He in turn recruits a ragtag group of other wizards and their like, along with one comic relief muggle (a once again entertaining Dan Fogler), to save the day.

It all plays out in the team-building then operating sort of way we've seen countless times in movies, but at least that means the pace picks up after a slow opening. A decent array of action sequences follow, including one that begins humorously before turning decidedly perilous (and thankfully, if briefly, inserts a few more of those fantastic beasts).

If you're a diehard aficionado of all things Potter -- and especially as related to the FB spin-off -- I imagine you'll find this to your liking. And there's no other real audience for this as if you show up cold without having seen the preceding flicks, you'll have no idea who's who and what's what. Decent enough but in need of a bit more magic and fantastic critters, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 31, 2022 / Posted April 15, 2022

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