A.K.A. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
This was the first film I’ve seen where it is quite obvious that it was filmed during the pandemic. Despite taking place in 1932, the film still showed that they were somewhat observing COVID safety protocols. Camera shots and angles were frequently used to cover up the distance between actors and often when a group of people were shown together, there was noticeable distance between each actor.
What really made the COVID filming obvious was the almost complete lack of extras in the film. In all previous movies within WB’s “Wizarding World” franchise, the beautiful scenery was filled with bustling crowds of interestingly dressed extras, making the world more believable. But when the characters walked through the city streets of New York, Berlin, the fictional village of Hogsmeade, and the halls of the famous Wizarding school of Hogwarts, there was hardly anybody there. There was no background business being carried on by extras, no interesting magical things happening, nothing. It literally felt like a handful of actors snuck onto an abandoned movie set and filmed a movie. It was very odd. There were less people out and about than there were in the real world streets during the heights of COVID restrictions. To top it all off, the film ends with one of the main characters walking down a completely empty street in New York with not a soul on sight.
My second issue was the recasting of the film’s villain, Gellert Grindelwald. Johnny Depp played the creepy Hitler-esque villain beautifully in the first two movies in the series, but due to the divorce lawsuit and disputed claims of domestic abuse from his ex-wife, Depp was fired from the movie. (I could go on a whole other rant about the ridiculousness of that). It is a sad thing when someone as talented as Depp can be fired from several movie franchises simply because someone accuses him of something he may or may not have done. But I digress.
The replacement for Depp was found in the Danish actor Mads Mikkelson. Mads is a fine actor, but his performances are always hit or miss with me. I loved him in Casino Royale and Rogue One, but I didn’t like him in Doctor Strange or Hannibal. I thoroughly enjoyed Depp’s performance of Grindelwald, and was obviously saddened by his firing, but I wanted to be open-minded and give Mads a chance. Sadly, I do not feel like he delivered. They didn’t put any effort into making him look, sound, or even act like Depp’s portrayal. He might as well have been a completely different character.
The Harry Potter franchise is no stranger to having a major character recast. When Richard Harris passed away after playing Dumbledore in the first 2 Harry Potter movies, he was replaced by Michael Gambon. Sure, there were drastic differences in how they looked, but the mannerisms, character quirks, and acting were similar enough to pass off.
The recasting of Grindelwald paled in comparison to Dumbledore’s recasting. Simply put, nothing in the entire movie led me to believe that Mads Mikkelson was playing the same character. He didn’t have the signature hair, the clothes, the persuasive charm, the grandeur, or creepiness that was defining of Grindelwald in the previous 2 films. It wasn’t until and hour and a half into the movie that I could actually tell that his eyes were different colors. And that was only when he was in a particular lighting and camera angle.
The story itself was a bit lackluster as well. In a similar fashion to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s “Somehow Palpatine Returned!” revelation, we find out that some how Grindelwald can suddenly see into the future, and thus the main characters need to go on separate missions that the others don’t know about in order to confuse him. Half of these missions don’t even serve any plot points other than to confuse the audience. And no clear reason was given as to how Grindelwald can see into the future (upon reflection there might have been some vague references to an animal Grindelwald killed having abilities to see into the future, but nothing very clear as to how he was able to).
There was also a very convoluted political election plot running throughout the film that seemed like more should have been explained. Apparently, in the Wizarding World, being exonerated from being a most wanted mass murderer automatically puts you in the running for their highest political office (and I thought our elections were scandalous).
All that being said, it could have been much worse, but it could have been much better. COVID definitely had a negative effect on on this film in more ways than one. Despite being almost 2 and a half hours long, the film’s story seemed truncated. I loved the first 2 movies in series, and I love seeing further adventures in the Harry Potter Universe, but I’m afraid that this film might bring the series down. Fingers crossed that it gets better.