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Columns Eleanor Ringel Cater

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ – a hot mess

A scene from "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore"

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

In the real world, J.K. Rowling is having her problems. Alas, in the Wizarding World she first created with her Harry Potter books, all is not exactly well either.

The Further Adventures of Newt Scamander or, as it’s known here, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” is something of a hot mess.

Despite another endearing performance by Eddie Redmayne as magizoologist Newt Scamander and an impressively sinister one by Mads Mikkelsen (replacing Johnny Depp) as the imperious and evil Gellert Grindelwald, “Secrets” is overpopulated and underwritten. Oh, there’s plenty of plot, but it comes at us in so many bits and pieces that nothing hangs together.

An image of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

The movie, which globetrots from Berlin to Bhutan, takes place in the 1930s. Dark forces on the rise in Germany are mirrored by a similar movement among witches and wizards.  Magical fascism anyone?

Anyway, Grindelwald now wants to be elected head of the International Confederation of Wizards (or something like that). And Hogwarts-headmaster-to-be, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), can’t move against him directly. That’s because years earlier the two young lovers swore a blood troth to each other. So, in order to stop his former beloved, Dumbledore must summon a sort of Mystical Magnificent Five.

They are: Newt; Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner); the Brooklyn baker and comic-relief Muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler); a smart and stylish Charms professor named Lally (Jessica Williams, doing Cate Blanchett doing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator”); and Newt’s lovelorn assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates).

A poster of “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

Plus, we get Kowalski’s love interest, Queenie (Alison Sudol), a possible Dumbledore relative (Ezra Miller), a sexy French wizard (William Nadylam) and maybe a half dozen others.

As for the promised Fantastic Beasts, they are far fewer and farther between. There are some dangerous scorpion-crabs, snippets of a soaring phoenix and cameos by a few favored creatures from the earlier movies. Most important is an adorably Bambi-ish thingie called a Qilin that, thanks to its innate ability to recognize the pure in heart, becomes central to the upcoming wizard election (maybe we could use one of those in 2024).

The movie moves along in fits and starts. It’s a measure, I’m afraid, of just how ineffective “Secrets” is when one of the film’s most soaring moments is a brief return to Hogwarts. That immense dining hall never seemed so, well, magical.

“Dangerous times favor dangerous men,” intones Dumbledore at one point.

Perhaps muddled times favor muddled movies.

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Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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