Beasts of burden

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (12A, 142 minutes)

The beauty of the wizarding world is that it’s so big, with hardly any limitations other than that good old curse of continuity, renowned for its ability to totally obliterate the credibility of any film if not followed. You won’t find that here, as David Yates’ seventh time directing in the Potter world shows he’s incredibly clued up. If only he’d be more adventurous with the past.

There’s a lot of plot to unpack here, so please give me a medal if I’m able to nail it on the head.

Set many years before that fateful night an infant Harry Potter is left orphaned, there was Fantastic Beasts, a guide book created by magical zookeeper Newt Schemander (Eddie Redmayne), who found himself thrown into an internal war of wizards and witches, instigated by the nefarious Grindelwald, previously played by Johnny Depp until Ambergate threw him to the wolves.

Disturbed by the villain’s Nazi-esque plot to destroy muggles (humans), a plan is formulated to take him down by a younger Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who plays the role as less gandalf, more cool University Professor who invites his favourite students for Friday night wine and nibbles. An election is underway to determine who will lead the wizarding world against the backdrop of the 1930’s, and Grindelwald has his eyes set on victory.

But this time round, the dark wizard has been recast by none other than possibly one of the best actors humanity has birthed – Mads Mikkelsen, who opts for a more Hitler-esque performance in contrast to Depp’s Charlie Manson attempt. Whilst the prior occupant of the role wasn’t disappointing, Mikkelsen’s portrayal is more fitting, even if it is just Hannibal Lecter with a wand.

Redmayne is a gifted actor. You only need to have seen his recent performance in Cabaret to know the depths to which he can go, but this isn’t his film. The owner’s name is in the title.

With Jude Law, there’s that same warmth and twinkle we grew up with thanks to Michael Gambon. Combined with his scorned friend/ex-comrade/boyfriend, the infamous duel foretold many a time by Moley, Ratty and Badger – whoops, I mean Harry, Ron and Hermione – certainly seems to take place here, but feels awfully flat and anti-climactic. Let’s hope that’s not the last spell shootout we get from the two, because if that’s what all the fuss was about, I’ll be having words with specs.

JK. Rowling’s intention is to have five films in the franchise, leading up to 1945. The prospect of that inter-wizard conflict taking place during the second world war is exciting, and one can only hope to see the correlations between Grindelwald and fascism grow – that’s where the fun should be going (first time I’ve put ‘fun’ and ‘fascism’ in the same sentence).

This is an ok-ish movie, but it lacks a spine. If a director and a writer (let’s not go there) went to an ice cream parlor, I’d be disappointed if they chose vanilla. Sure simple, but where’s the risk? Where’s your backbone gone?

RATING: 6/10

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