There’s No Rising From the Ashes Here (The Secrets of Dumbledore Review)

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how I would not be watching The Secrets of Dumbledore in theatres. (For more on that and why, read “When Franchises Re-Cast Characters (The Secrets of Dumbledore.”) My friend Caroline and I also released an episode on our podcast “Disturbed Nerds” where we discussed this, as well as other crimes of creators. Link to the episode below.

That being said, since it’s been probably about a two months or so since the movie was released, and it’s now on HBO Max, a few weekends ago, I finally broke down and watched it.

Let me tell you, I was not impressed. The first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie is still the best one out of this trilogy, and we’ll get to the reasons why I believe that is in a moment.

I went in there, trying to ignore the entire ethical issues of this movie, as stated in my previous blog post. Yes, Johnny Depp was not in it. yes, he was re-cast, and it was a whole debacle. Oh, not to mention Ezra Miller (who knows how Warner Brothers will handle him being the Flash considering they are just in general an awful person). I ignored that (mostly). I shoved those issues aside and went in as clear-headed as possible. (Here begins the SPOILERS. So stop reading if you haven’t watched the movie!)

That being said, it honestly wasn’t the best movie. A big question that came to my head was:

What was the point of this movie?

In fact, better yet:

What exactly did this movie accomplish in this saga?

I mean yes, the blood pact that our adorable Niffler Teddy stole from Grindelwald in The Crimes of Grindelwald, because ooh, shiny and here you go (I might have been a Niffler in a past life, just saying. I like shiny too.) is broken. That’s great. But like, how did it break? That didn’t seem clear.

Teddy the Niffler and Newt is done with this

You know, that little guy. He’s great. Like the MVP. Anyways, the previous move he nabbed the blood pact that prevented Dumbledore from making moves on Grindelwald and vice versa. Yay.

The point is, it’s broken now. But HOW. My theory is that it broke because Dumbledore wasn’t actively trying to kill Grindelwald. Rather, Dumbledore was trying to protect Credence, his nephew, from Grindelwald, Meanwhile, Grindelwald was casting to kill, and thus that’s why it broke. But that is a weak theory. It’s all I got though.

This movie greatly suffered from some poor writing. Poor, sloppy writing, that left us with a lot of questions, not a lot of answers, and in all honesty, just plain old simple confusion.

Take for example the message Credence, our poor broken Obscurial, gets at the beginning of the movie. (After hunting down the most adorable little deer type thing and then Grindelwald KILLING IT. YES. I am angry about this. But we’ll get to my thoughts on this version of Grindelwald later.) The message in the mirror says “Forgive me.” Oooohkay then. But when and how did these messages begin? How did Aberforth, who is sending these messages, A) find out about Credence if he didn’t know and B) find a way to communicate with said boy without alerting Grindelwald? Also, they did not make it very clear at all until way later in the movie that Aberforth is Credence’s father. They also didn’t really explain how that all happened. Aberfoth fell in love, his girl’s parents didn’t approve and she was sent away. Did he know she was pregnant? If he did, did Aberforth look for Credence?

ALSO, I just realized another plot hole.

So, we know from The Crimes of Grindelwald, that Leta Lestrange switched babies. Her brother Corvus went to the woman who ended up in the water and he drowned, thus dying. Corvus was dead. The father found out because of his fancy family tree. I think. It’s not clear. But either way, he finds out his son is dead. So. . .what did he do with Credence? Did he figure out that that boy wasn’t his son and that this was some switch-a-roo and just have the half-elf woman drop off Credence to Mrs. Barebones? Because he didn’t care? Did anyone tell that woman, whom I assume is Credence’s mother that her baby isn’t the one that died but was really Corvus Lestrange? Again, lots of questions.

Another big major question. . .

Where the HELL was Tina?

You know, Tina Goldstein, big sister to one Queenie and Newt’s woman with salamander eyes. This woman!

Newt and Tina, the ultimate cute

Are you seriously telling me that Tina, badass Auror Tina, just hung about America with her new posh job while the man she loved was out running around being in danger AND not to mention, her baby sister was with a deranged psychopath? No. Hell no. There was no logical reason why Tina was left out of this story. I don’t believe for a second that she wouldn’t be involved. New cushy job or not. That is her sister. She wouldn’t give up on her sister. Not for a moment.

While we are on the topic of Queenie. her decision to join Grindelwald was weak at best. She’s a Legilmens. Couldn’t she read his mind? Or was he an Occlumens? Thus he could shield his mind. But even then, Queenie has heard the rumors about Grindelwald. Come on. She’s a smart girl. She had to have known that he hated Muggles (or No-Majs as they are called in America). I get she wanted to marry Jacob but that still felt so weak. Grindelwald had to manipulate her more than what was shown. Which I suppose makes sense. After all, Grindelwald was known for being extremely persuasive. He knows how to read people, see what they want and then use that for his own means. For me, I always that was more terrifying than Voldemort. Voldemort went with fear, while Grindelwald played on what people wanted. Their hopes, their dreams. In Queenie’s case, she wanted to be with the man she loved without being arrested and Jacob’s mind being wiped. (For more on how I think Grindelwald is a more terrifying villian, read this blog post.)

Speaking of Jacob. This is going to kill me to say, but as much as I love Jacob, he really had no purpose. He’s a great character. I love him, I do. But he had no purpose. He pretty much was in the way. More or less. The storyline of him trying to assassinate Grindelwald? Please. That was so weak. Jacob is a Muggle. How was he trying to assassinate Grindelwald at all legit?

Jacob was a distraction, that’s it. But even then, he didn’t move the story along. This depresses me some because Jacob is a great character and they didn’t do anything with him. He could’ve been so much more. He could’ve had more interactions with Queenie and really bring her back into the fold.

Do you know who was my favorite part of this movie? (Besides Newt of course because baby. Newt Scamander must be protected at all times.)

This woman right here.

Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams)

Eulalie “Lally” Hicks, a Charmed professor at Hogwarts who is seriously 100% that. She’s incredible. She’s sassy and independent and powerful, and she knows it, but she’s not cocky about it. She was a breakout character, and I adored her. Seriously, she was awesome. I need more of her. I also liked how she and Jacob met. She essentially told him that he might be a Muggle but that doesn’t change the fact that he has a good heart. Jacob does have a good heart. They really could’ve used that and they. . .well, didn’t.

Another character I was glad we got to see more of was Bunty. Bunty is Newt’s assistant (who totally has a crush on him, and I can’t blame her, come on). She had a brief little cameo in The Crimes of Grindelwald and in The Secrets of Dumbledore, she had more of a role. Sort of. This is her.

Bunty (Victoria Yeates)

She’s an absolute delight. We need a Bunty spin-off.

Before we get to my thoughts on Mads Mikkelsen’s Gellert Grindelwald, I would like to speak (write, whatever) about the utter and complete sadness that is the character of Credence Barebones, or rather Aurelius Dumbledore. Now in this movie, you can tell that Credence isn’t doing so hot. He’s dying. The Obscurus is basically gobbling him up from the inside. It’s poisoning him. He’s growing weaker and he’s in a lot of pain.

Let’s back up a bit.

What do we know about Obscurials?

An Obscurial is created when a witch or wizard is forced to repress their magic. This can be through psychology or physical abuse. Such as the case with Credence and Ariana Dumbledore. Mary Barebones beat Credence to try and rid him of his unholy ways. Ariana was attacked by Muggle boys who saw her doing magic and they thought she was a freak. Thus she grew to try to suppress her magic, to hate her magic. When this happens, the witch or wizard develops an Obscurus.

Now according to the Harry Potter canon, Obscurials were more common in ancient times. Back when there were witch trials, etc. Now they are not so common. They have ways to hide themselves from Muggles and not risk being alienated, as well as ways to help children who are born to Muggles who may not accept their magical child. Most Obscurials don’t live past their tenth birthday, However, both Ariana and Credence Dumbledore are exemptions to this.

Ariana lived until her fourteenth birthday. Her Obscurus did not kill her, but rather it was a spell from either her brothers Albus and Aberforth or Grindelwald.

Here’s a bit of math for y’all. The boat that Leta Lestrange was on was The Titanic, (though it’s been neither confirmed nor denied but we’re going with it). The Titanic sank in 1912. The Secrets of Dumbledore takes place in 1932. Baby Credence was maybe a year old during the boat thing, so that places him at maybe 20, 21 at the time of The Secrets of Dumbledore. He’s lived twice as long as most Obscurials. Now, is this because he’s a Dumbledore?

Albus Dumbledore believes that if an Obscurial is showered with love that that could essentially save them, but then he says he believes it’s too late for Credence. The power of love is a common theme in the Harry Potter universe. It was Lily Potter’s love that saved Harry, and Harry is saved by a mother’s love a lot throughout the series. Love is a powerful emotion. I like that even here we can see that Albus believes that love is the most powerful emotion. The purest form of magic. I wish we could’ve seen this. To know if love can truly save Credence from his fate.

Can love really eliminate all of the trauma that Credence has been through? Mary Barebones beat into him that he was a freak. That made his magic turn against him and then the Obscurus burst out. Can the love of his long-lost father Aberforth truly reverse that? Can his father teach him that magic is a gift, not a curse? That being a wizard does not make him a freak or an abomination. It makes him special. Wheter or not we see this on-screen has yet to be determined.

He may or not be in the next movie (if there is a next movie, tbh) because of the issues (rightful issues) most fans have with the actor who plays him. (For more on that, here’s a timeline.)

Let’s get to the crux of this blog post. That would be Mad Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald.

I don’t even know where to begin.

I feel like they totally underutilized him. We’ll start with that. Mads is known for playing villains. It’s like his thing. Though I haven’t watched it, I’ve heard he played a delightfully wicked Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal. That being said, he was definitely underutilized. What did he even do in this movie? I can’t recall.

Other than the fact he killed the most adorable deer-like thing in the world in like the first fifteen minutes of the movie. I will say that Mads’ Grindelwald got his hands dirty compared to Depp’s Grindelwald. Depp’s Grindelwald was more about persuasion, about reading someone, such as Credence or Queenie, figuring out what their weakness was, and how to exploit it. What did they want? That’s what Depp’s Grindelwald read to me. He wanted to gain as many supporters of his vision but wrapped it in cotton candy while the inside was all hard. The whole point of Grindelwald was that no one knew who he all had in his pocket. He hand his fingers in many different pies. It was a terrifying time.

I didn’t mind that Mads’ Grindelwald was more willing to get his hands dirty. However, he was missing that persuasion that Depp’s was.

There was also another problem. . .At the beginning of the movie, when you see Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald, you don’t realize that it’s Grindelwald. Half the time, I forgot he was Grindelwald because he’s so drastically different from Johnny Depp’s. I understand that Mads Mikkelsen wanted to have his own version of Grindelwald, but Depp already established a distinctive look for Grindelwald.

When Richard Harris died, he was replaced by Michael Gambon for Albus Dumbledore. Michael Gambon wanted to honor the late Richard Harris but also, honor the character. When you watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is a bit jarring to see Gambon as Dumbledore at first, but you still know that he is Dumbledore. You never question if he’s some another character. You know he’s Albus Dumbledore. (Compare them below.)

There is nothing about Mads Mikkelsen that is familiar as Gellert Grindelwald, and that is a problem. Compare him and Johnny Depp below. They feel like two completely different characters.

There is nothing similar about these two. Nothing at all. That is a problem. Fans want to see something that is familiar. I know it’s not fair to Mads Mikkelsen. I think he did a decent job, but the problem was A) he was underutilized, B) poor, sloppy writing, and C) forgetting he was Grindelwald.

The reason why Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first one, is the best one is that it was about the beasts. It was about Newt and his fantastic beasts. By having his story intertwined with the Grindelwald and Dumbledore lead up to their battle, it takes away from what I liked from the first one. It takes away from the beasts and learning about them. I feel like they just use “Fantastic Beasts” as a way to get viewers. It’s not about those beasts anymore. It’s about the humans. That’s it. If they wanted to do the Grindelwald era, they should’ve made it separate from Newt’s story. Yes, some overlap, but not this much.

I feel like this movie was trying to lead up to something. . .but it didn’t. Honestly, I have expected this to be the huge fight between Grindelwald and Dumbledore if I didn’t know that they fought in 1945. This movie had no rise, it had no climax. It was stagnant, and it felt like it. So what Grindelwald isn’t the new leader of the wizarding world? He still has followers all over the world. What did that accomplish? Nothing. Also, Dumbledore isn’t the new leader. He’s in the shadows once more. Where do we go from here? Where did we even go with this?

And that’s all folks for my review of The Secrets of Dumbledore. If you haven’t seen it, then uh, why did you read this? But if you have, drop a comment! I’d love to know what you think!