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‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore’ Looks To Spell Near $160M WW Total By Easter

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore’ Looks To Spell Near $160M WW Total By Easter

The third of five planned films in the “Fantastic Beasts” series of movie prequels based on characters from the Harry Potter universe, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is a bit of a feint in more ways than one. The film is purportedly about Dumbledore’s family secrets, not simply those involving the famous wizard Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) in the years before he became headmaster of Hogwarts, but those involving other branches of his family tree.

To be sure, the film begins with Albus and his unexpected paramour, wicked wizard Gellert Grindelwald, having a lovely tea (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp). Grindelwald is less, well, wicked than Ralph Fiennes’s Voldemort, but he’s still a nasty character, and Mikkelsen’s unsettling interpretation has a distinct psychotic aspect to it.

But their relationship, which includes a blood pledge prohibiting either man from attacking the other, is no longer a secret. The fact that Dumbledore disagreed with Grindelwald’s desire to “burn down” the world of nonmagical Muggles (whom he views as foul-smelling “animals”) isn’t helping their relationship.

The real skeleton in Dumbledore’s closet, so to speak, is unrelated to the character’s sexuality and was hinted at at the conclusion of the previous film. For much of this overlong picture, it involves a character named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who has a Dickensian name.

These human-relationship-related story points are fascinating. They are, in fact, the most intriguing aspects of “Secrets,” which was written by J.K. Rowling and Potter veteran Steve Kloves, who is reuniting with director David Yates for the beloved fantasy franchise’s seventh installment. However, they are not the plot’s main driving force. Rather, the story’s driving force is a unique creature known as the Unicorn, which is both dragon and part unicorn.

What would you expect from a “Fantastic Beasts” series? The film rushes to a scene with its hero, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), trying to save an orphaned baby qilin after the tea prologue (more on the significance of this later). Adult fans may be disappointed, especially after the second installment, “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” which focused heavily on some delectably dark human deeds and less on the (admittedly very exotic) critters, all of which, despite being beautifully rendered via CGI, appear to be geared toward children.

In its broadest strokes, the current story is about human affairs, specifically an election.

In particular, Vicência Santos (Maria Fernanda Cândido), Liu Tao (David Wong), and – wait for it – Gellert Grindelwald competed for the title of supreme mugwump, or leader of the International Confederation of Wizards, in 1932. In “Secrets,” the upcoming criminal accusations against him, alluded to in the previous film’s title, are dismissed early.

Because this is the wizarding world, the election is decided not by popular vote, but by the approval of the qilin, a magical creature with the power to sense a man or woman of honor and good character. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of a manipulated election. This tidbit of newsworthiness is a great poke at current happenings.

It’s best not to say how the election is rigged – or not rigged – but it does entail a large game of three-card monte, led by Newt and including bags, some empty and others not, strewn over the streets and alleyways of a Bhutanese mountain village.

Newt is joined at the convention by old and new family and friends, both magical and Muggle: his brother Theseus (Callum Turner); his assistant Bunty (Victoria Yeates); baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler); charms professor Eulalie “Lally” Hicks (Jessica Williams); and Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), whose sister Leta Lestrange was killed by Grindelwald in the previous.

It’s a simple and not particularly smart approach, and the story ends on a dismal whimper rather than a bang.

Despite its flaws, Potter aficionados (guilty as charged) will rate “Secrets” on a curve. It may not be the most enthralling of the prequels thus far, but it does advance the tale in a fun, if not particularly great, way.

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