‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ review: Stop these films

Avada Kedavra! 

That’s the killing curse in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Point your wand, yell that out and your enemy is kaput in a flash of green light.

So now, I will direct my wand at the “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” movie series, and shout that magic spell in hopes I can put this sputtering prequel franchise out of its misery. And miserable, it is.

movie review

Running time: 142 minutes. Rated PG-13 (some fantasy action/violence). In theaters.

After two adequate films that darkened the world of Hogwarts, sending its witches and wizards into a black hole, comes an utterly charmless third entry called “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.” 

Warner Bros. was forced to replace Johnny Depp with Mads Mikkelsen (better, but that’s not saying much) because of Depp’s ongoing drama with ex-wife Amber Heard. The studio will surely also have to send Ezra Miller, another star here, packing because of the actor’s recent rampage through Hawaii. And all this rigmarole for films that aren’t making much money to begin with. 

“Secrets,” somehow the third of a planned five, really puts the “dumb” in Dumbledore.

The titular wizard’s (Jude Law) “secrets” are mostly that he’s gay in the repressed 1930s and getting out of a relationship with Gellert Grindelwald (Mikkelsen), a wizard genocidal maniac who wants to eradicate all the nonmagic Muggles. Originally the not-so-happy couple had dreams of world peace. They went so far as to mix their blood in a bewitched vial that would prevent them from ever harming each other — kinda like Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie! 

Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) wants to rid the world of nonmagical Muggles. Courtesy of Warner Bros. PictureNow Dumbledore and his ragtag crew of unqualified idiots must stop Grindy from seizing more power, because Grindelwald, who’s gone from fringe figure to populist hero, is trying to run for elected office with the International Confederation of Wizards. There is even a scene where he’s mobbed by admirers in Germany. Voldemort, for all his similar evils, was never so obviously paralleled to Hitler. But the spin-off series, directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, has no art, cleverness or creativity to speak of.   

The connection of main character Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magical zoologist, to the rise of witch fascism in Europe has always been tenuous. At the center of every film is a creature that only Newt understands and which plays an unlikely role in the plot. 

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, right) and his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) race to stop evil Grindelwald. Jaap BuitendijkThis time, it’s a fawn-like animal called a Qilin that has the ability to detect the purity of a person’s soul. Grindelwald steals one of the rare furballs to prove he has its endorsement to become Supreme Mugwump.

Summarizing this tedium, it turns out, is as upsetting as viewing it.

The other shoulda-been-shredded film characters Rowling drummed up are back: Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the clumsy New York baker; Queenie (Alison Sudol), the mind-reading party witch; and Theseus (Callum Turner), Newt’s high-achieving brother. Jessica Williams joins the fray — get out while you still can! — as Lally, an American magic professor.

More difficult to wrap your head around than the politics-heavy plot and phone book of dull people is this franchise’s continued existence. It’s a struggle to find anyone, Potter fan or snobby critic, who enjoys these movies, and still there are two more on the way.   

What a shame. In the 11 years since the final “Harry Potter” film was released in theaters, the Wizarding World has become an embarrassment. 

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