Oculus reparo! After watching “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” it’s clear that David Yates’ vision needs some repair.
Disregarding major plot developments from its predecessor “Crimes of Grindelwald,” the director’s third “Fantastic Beasts” installment both disappoints and confuses audiences with its lack of continuity. Although the fast-paced film avoids tedium with swift developments and visual thrills, its irrelevant central conflict reveals the franchise’s unfortunate absence of a common thread.
With the Wizarding World in turmoil once again, the film begins by stitching together a disorderly exposition: There are riots over an election, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is trying to protect a mysterious powerful animal, Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) can now see into the future and Dumbledore’s (Jude Law) blood pact renders his magic useless against Grindelwald. Moving quickly and with little context, the film’s plot is so unnecessarily convoluted that it’s difficult for viewers to emotionally invest in storylines that seem to have minimal consequences.
Aware of its muddled plotlines and frantically turning to fan loyalty, “Secrets of Dumbledore” tries its best to take advantage of cherished characters to reinstate its charm. Redmayne amuses with Newt’s quirky, animal-adoring antics, and Jude Law is particularly winsome with a charisma that’s both sharp and aloof. Though Redmayne and Law offer engaging performances, their shared spotlight puts Newt’s protagonism into question, making the film blur out of focus.
Outshining both Newt and Dumbledore at times is beloved underdog Jacob Krazowski (Dan Fogler), who charges in unexpectedly from the sidelines. Easily the most fun character to watch grow, the lovable Muggle balances ditzy comedic relief with surprising emotional honesty. Without Queenie (Alison Sudol) by his side, Jacob relies less on his clumsy charm and more on his kindhearted courage — a Gryffindor at heart. “Secrets of Dumbledore” occasionally overemphasizes his benevolence in a distracting way, but for the most part, the Neville-Longbottom-esque character helps ground the film and perhaps deserves even more screen time.
While the franchise’s first film found success with the conflict between its ragtag team and antagonistic outsiders, “Secrets of Dumbledore” struggles to recreate this magic. Wide-eyed and docile under Grindelwald’s control, Sudol haunts as the drained, pale Queenie, but chemistry dwindles with her absence from the core ensemble.
With deteriorating chemistry among its protagonists, the film’s hackneyed dialogue only establishes more uncomfortable distance among characters. Dialing up her theater kid energy to play the savvy Professor Eulalie Hicks, new cast member Jessica Williams makes the most of the stale dialogue she’s given. Ezra Miller’s stone-cold, unstable Credence is as brooding as ever, yet all of Credence’s lines intended to be severe read more like emo band lyrics. Though promising at first, both characters ultimately feel expendable.
Per usual, nostalgia reliably steps in as the franchise’s saving grace — golden snitches fly about, The Monster Book of Monsters snaps around and John Williams’ swelling score invariably delights. The film’s visual effects also stun consistently; one memorable battle uses color to characterize, pitting halcyon gray against thrashing black in whirling havoc.
Yet, the franchise can only rely on nostalgia and its $200 million budget for so long; while its morals about love and goodness are in tone with the heart of the series, Yates spells them out in a frustratingly explicit way, making them especially trite. Desperately, the film requires less flimsy sentimentality and more thoughtful lucidity.
“Secrets of Dumbledore” might be a temporary panacea for Potterheads homesick for Hogwarts, but alas, the film feels more disenchanting than spellbinding.