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4 Things You Should Know about Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

4 Things You Should Know about <em>Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore</em>

First there was the amusing Romp, introducing us to a British magical zoologist and his case of fascinating creatures on a visit to 1920s New York City. That was followed by the wannabe Epic that despite its gorgeous palette was little more than filler, bloated with characters, easter eggs and answers to questions nobody was asking.

So assuming you’re still with us after three-and-a-half years – and nobody would blame you if you’re one of the many who’ve dropped out for any number of reasons – we arrive at the middle chapter of the five-film Fantastic Beasts series. Here the genre magically transforms itself again, this time into a grey-skyed Spy Thriller. And the results are remarkably better, making this a worthwhile Wizarding World entry.

Here are Four Things Parents and Potterphiles (like me) Should Know about Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

1 As the title suggests, this entry has much more Dumbledore...

...instantly making it more digestible for Harry Potter fans. We glue our eyes to Jude Law from the excellent opening scene, watching him take on more of Albus’ familiar mannerisms. His beard is thicker and whiter. He interacts with other members of the Dumbledore family. He carries more weight – physical and emotional – with him. He commands each scene as well as a network of spies and operatives.

He also tells us once-and-for-all in no uncertain terms at least three times about his sexuality. It’s no secret in the canon: teenage Albus Dumbledore fell in love with Gellert Grindelwald, and the two powerful young wizards planned to rule the world together. There was a tragedy, then a falling out, after which Dumbledore dedicated himself to educating students, standing against tyranny, and…

2 "Doing what is right, rather than what is easy."

Dumbledore has said these words before in the Harry Potter series. The theme is voiced twice again here, which even if it’s a little too on-the-nose, makes it clear for younger viewers what the message is. And every key character will have to rise to this wonderfully noble challenge before the movie is over.

And the filmmakers, including Director David Yates and screenwriters J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves, have taken their own advice. They seem to have reviewed the problems with the previous film, and produced a leaner, more consumable product, remembering the rules of economy of character (one major character from the previous films even sits on the sidelines for 99% of this one). There is one new character, American professor of magic Lally Hicks (a welcome addition from Jessica Williams), and one major replacement, with Mads Mikkelsen stepping in for the fired Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Whatever your feelings about Depp being let go, Mikkelsen is the more natural, correct choice for this role, which he embodies effortlessly, while also fixing a complaint from the previous movies – Grindelwald’s accent. Mikkelsen, from Denmark, easily gives the dark wizard an appropriate middle-European emphasis.

Finally, praise be, one very-bad-idea character from the last film is completely excised here, and some of us are now free to go on believing that Nagini was always an evil serpent and not a lovely cursed Asian woman once upon a time.

3 We still haven't moved the timeline forward very much, but it is now possible to see a lit end of the tunnel for this franchise

The first film took place in late 1926, and we have apparently reached 1932 in a series that we know has to end in 1945. Here, a recently pardoned-of-his-crimes Grindelwald seeks candidacy to become Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. The German leader’s term is coming to an end, and an election of sorts will soon take place in Bhutan. Grindelwald, who is up against candidates from Spain and China, will attempt to use a magical creature called a qilin to rig the proceedings and begin his war on Muggles. Of course, we know who always wins the day when it comes to fantastic beasts!

It was a very smart decision to turn this film into a spy thriller; it gives all the characters something to do, there is a clear mission, and the outcome remains in doubt until the end. Many of the endless questions and mysteries of the previous film are answered simply without fanfare here: Who is Credence? Why did Queenie turn, and will she ever turn back? Will Dumbledore find a way to break his blood pact with Grindelwald? Will Newt’s assistant Bunty be given something to do? But dang if they didn't double-down on Minerva McGonagall being on staff at Hogwarts already.

4 It's quite teen-friendly for a PG-13 movie

Gone are the senseless child murders and intense violence of the previous Fantastic Beasts films. The plot is simplified, the dialogue is easier to hear, and I didn’t pick up any cussing, but leave the young kids at home – they’ll be bored, scared or both. Yes: it has an openly gay major character (no kissing or anything), and it’s set in a world of magic. If that’s all you need to know, we’ve got some great Easter weekend alternatives over here. Others may find valuable themes in a continued story of the useless danger in fearing others, encouraging regular people to act upon their natural strengths, and doing what is right in hard times.

The Secrets of Dumbledore isn’t a fantastic film; it’s just more fan-friendly, decidedly lighter on its feet than its predecessors. It’s far more watchable and restores the hope in finally witnessing the 1945 duel between Grindelwald and Dumbledore that Harry’s first chocolate frog card told us about all those years ago…

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars (more or less depending on your comfort with magical worlds)

Image courtesy: ©Warner Bros. Pictures

Shawn McEvoy is the Director of Editorial for Salem Web Network, where he has served to produce Kingdom-blessing content since 2005. He is also the former co-host of Crosswalk's Video Movie Reviews and the Inside the Editors' Room podcast.