Bring out the butterbeer, because there’s a new “Harry Potter” film in the works. Okay, I’ll own it: I’m lying. Only in theatres, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” is just Potter-related. It’s the third of a five-part prequel series by J.K. Rowling that takes readers back to a time (the 1930s) before Harry Potter, the fictitious boy wizard from Hogwarts, was born on July 31, 1980.
How would the “FB3,” which was designed to be mild, fare at a box office still reeling from pandemic protocols? The first film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” was released in 2016 and received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. The second, released in 2018, was dubbed “The Crimes of Grindelwald” and received universal apathy.
In short, the pressure is on for “The Secrets of Dumbledore” to resurrect a sagging franchise, beginning with the open secret that future Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) is gay and once loved the villainous Gellert Grindelwald, who was previously played by Johnny Depp, who is now embroiled in harassment allegations and has been replaced by Bond bad boy Mads Mikkelsen.
Is that clear? It doesn’t matter. Younger audiences will be thrilled to see Eddie Redmayne reprise his role as magizoologist Newt Scamander, along with the wonderfully strange creatures he smuggles around in his briefcase, if their parents aren’t frightened off by the PG-13 rating.
Newt, you’re right! His hip-swiveling dance with cheerful — though frightening — crabs will delight you. And a round of applause for his creatures. Pickett, who is the size of a tree stem, is nonetheless a delightful marvel of computer-generated inventiveness. Qilin (pronounced “chillin”), a deer-dragon hybrid that surprises even when the plot lags when it most needs to soar, is another example.
Fortunately, Team Newt includes his Muggle pal Jacob Kowalski (the comic Dan Fogler), a New York baker who is still smitten with Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who is strangely drawn to Grindelwald. Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), Newt’s brother, and Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), a newcomer who teaches charms at an American version of Hogwarts.
It’s unclear how the children will react to the film’s gloomy overtones of fascism and world war. Grindelwald, who has the ability to see into the future, plans to take over the wizarding world. A bargain Dumbledore struck with his former lover forbids direct confrontation. As a result, it’s up to Newt and his magnificent monsters to save the day. How? I’m not going to tell.
Another thorn in the side is Credence, a self-proclaimed orphan with anger management difficulties played by Ezra Miller, who was recently arrested for disorderly conduct, adding to a film plagued by flaws that no magic wand can solve.
The good news is that “FB3” is a vast improvement over its suffocating, overworked predecessor. It helps that Rowling collaborated on the writing with Potter veteran Steve Kloves. And David Yates, who previously helmed four Harry Potter films, shows a deft touch at directing a rambunctious plot that spans New York, London, Berlin, and Bhutan.
Look, the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise will never be as successful as the Harry Potter franchise. There’s no Harry, Ron, or Hermione to be found. The promise of enchantment still calls to those who are attracted by the roots of the wizarding realm. The best part is that it contains magic. And that matters a lot.