Back into the Wizarding World with “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”

“The Secrets of Dumbledore” Warner Bros Pictures

Despite the intriguing subtitle “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Rowling’s Wizarding World series feels like an extended prologue to a better movie that hasn’t yet been made. Looking back, Rowling should have turned her Harry Potter prequel into a limited series, where the pacing is more leisurely.

It would provide a more dynamic anchor than the shy and halting Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in “Fantastic Beasts.” In theory, a “young Dumbledore” movie would fix some of the weaknesses of “Fantastic Beasts.” Furthermore, Rowling has enlisted the help of director David Yates and co-writer Steve Kloves, another veteran of the Harry Potter franchise.

Nevertheless, the storyline essentially entraps Dumbledore (Jude Law) in his romantic relationship with Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) who — in classic authoritarian fashion — intends to take over the magical world and wage war against Muggles.

Due to the fact that Dumbledore cannot face Grindelwald and his minions directly, he must recruit not just Newt but a diverse group of wizards and witches, as well as Newt’s Muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler). And besides Jessica Williams’ ’40s gangster accent, they’re rather nondescript and fade, aside from Lally Hicks.

The latest “Fantastic Beasts” unfolds with no clear sense of urgency, and sends the gang on a series of adventures and detours that build toward an anticipated showdown to thwart Grindelwald’s plans.
Whatever the commercial verdict, the creative one delivers another mixed bag that tempers enthusiasm for more, barring promises to both pick up the pace and enhance Law’s role in a more definitive manner.

Having played villains in James Bond, Marvel and now Harry Potter movies, Mikkelsen advances his bad-guy credentials, and he introduces a sense of menace that outshines almost everything else in the film.

Yet even with Mikkelsen’s contribution and the characteristically impressive production design and effects, “Fantastic Beasts” never truly sparks to life.

In hindsight, the real misstep might have come when Warner Bros. let Rowling outline a weighty five-movie format, as opposed to at most a more conventional trilogy, although Variety has reported the fourth and fifth installments could depend on how well “Secrets of Dumbledore” performs at the box office.

Otherwise, like “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” “Secrets of Dumbledore” is handsomely done but ultimately slow and seems to be more of a wild goose chase than an actual adventure. And somehow, its appealing pieces, old and new, all add up to an easily skippable movie.