by MIKE ORLOCK
The last time we saw Newt Scamander, the shambling “Magizoologist” at the center of J. K. Rowling’s prequel (of sorts) to all things Harry Potter, he was in Paris trying to prevent the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald from misusing a Qilin, a kind of Chinese dragon, from destroying the city and unleashing war upon the world, at the climax of 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Grindelwald, you see, is one of those pedigreed wizards who thinks all “pure bloods” should rule the world and enslave Muggles (non-magical humans) to do the grunt work for them. He’s the founding father for Voldemort from the Potter series, and if he isn’t as menacing as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, it’s not from lack of trying. The only thing standing between him and world domination is Albus Dumbledore—and absent-minded Newt, of course, with his suitcase full of wondrous creatures.
Newt is played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, and he’s back in fine fettle, as he might say, trying to set things right in the latest Beasts installment, the engaging The Secrets of Dumbledore (PG-13), currently in theaters but coming to HBO Max at the end this month. This is the third of five planned movies in the franchise, so it’s not giving away anything to reveal that Newt and Dumbledore (Jude Law once again doing wizardly work with an iconic role) don’t quite succeed in defeating Grindelwald so much as thwarting him—but, hey, writer Rowling (working with veteran screenwriter Steve Kloves) and director David Yates, who has guided this series from the beginning, need to save some stuff for later, don’t they?
The secrets we learn in Dumbledore are more or less confirmation of plot twists hinted at in the earlier movies, involving Dumbledore’s “relationship” with Grindelwald and the true identity of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the angry Obscurus (think emotionally disturbed wizard who doesn’t know he is one) that Grindelwald wants to use to checkmate his old friend from interfering with his plans.
Those plans are now centered in Berlin between the World Wars, during a time when a real-life necromancer was spinning his own dark magic among the masses, and the plot nicely piggybacks the tragic history of that period as Grindelwald and his Nazi-like supporters seek to seize the Chancellorship of the Ministry of Magic and install him as dictator. Joining Newt and Dumbledore against these forces of darkness are the Muggle baker from Queens, Jacob Kowalski (series mainstay Dan Fogler); Newt’s older brother Theseus (Callum Turner); Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), a Charms teacher from America’s version of Hogwarts; Bunty, Newt’s ever-loyal and adoring assistant (Victoria Yeates); and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), an African wizard from the Lestrange family tree, out for a measure of personal revenge.
Also around, but in disappointingly reduced roles, are Queenie and Tina Goldstein (Alison Sudol and Katherine Waterston, respectively), two enchanting American witches who were the primary love interests for Jacob and Newt in the first two installments. Queenie inexplicably joined Grindelwald’s group and Tina more or less “disapparated” at the conclusion of Crimes until making a brief cameo here. Here’s hoping someone casts a spell on Rowling to bring the two of them back front and center for Chapter Four since this series could use a little romance amid all the dark dealings going on.
The big change in Chapter Three is the “polyjuice” transformation of Grindelwald himself, morphing from Johnny Depp to Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. There are lots of rumors circulating as to why Depp disappeared, the most logical surrounding the ugly nature of his divorce from Amber Heard which has torched his reputation. Mikkelsen, a fine actor, is an old hat at playing heavies, from Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale to serial killer Hannibal Lecter in TV’s “Hannibal.” He does solid work giving Grindelwald a sly, menacing charm, but I nevertheless missed the dastardly histrionics of Depp in the role. His Grindelwald seemed like a villain conjured from the fantasy world of these movies. Mikkelsen’s seems depressingly all too real, ripped from the headlines today.
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for The Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He currently serves as Door County’s poet laureate.