Jude Law in a scene from Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Photo / Supplied
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (PG13, USA), 2 hours, 22 mins, in cinemas now.
Directed by David Yates
Did you know that JK Rowling has always thought of her character Albus Dumbledore, wizard school Hogwarts’ headmaster, as gay?
You’ll need to know that, or you’ll wonder if you heard correctly when Dumbledore (Jude Law) outs himself in an opening scene. In a vast 1930s tea-room, elegantly three-piece suited Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), dark arts master, hater of Muggles, asks Dumbledore why he had once been so prepared to work with him to plan world domination by wizards.
Dumbledore replies with a tiny shrug, “Because I was in love with you.” The ground underpinning Harry Potter’s world shifts ever so slightly at that point, or does it?
Grindelwald’s still planning to dominate the world, ridding it of Muggles. His oratory of him is famous. His followers of him raise their right arms to salute him. He has the blondest of blondes doing his bidding on him, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). He dismisses Queenie’s former fiancé, the full-hearted baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
There’s not much in the way of fantastic beasts in the first half hour, only lots of story and a few too many characters. Director David Yates envisaged gorgeous clothes though, and wonderfully gritty city sets, all beautifully executed.
The massive score (by James Newton Howard) reportedly took eight months to record and is brilliant. Sadly, the script (JK Rowling and usual Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, who seems to have been sidelined) falls short. JK Rowling should probably stick to novel writing. Create ideas for movies by all means, but leave scriptwriting to the experts.
After lots of talk inside buildings, the film eventually takes off into the jungle. What a relief it is to see endearing nerd Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with his trademark battered suitcase, his cute animated leaf Pickett in his pocket, and Teddy, his platypus-like Niffler, crawling around inside his jacket.
In the undergrowth, there’s a primordial groan, a full-screen shot of a mountainous scaly belly, heaving, and Newt, midwife now, rolls up his sleeves. A transparent glob containing a Bambi-like super-cute spotted baby on spindly legs plops out of the vast creature. It’s Qilin.
Qilin will save the world from evil, but almost immediately, she is kidnapped and then lost in a wild torrent. Newt must find her. Newt is dedicated to making things right. He’ll do it, that much is clear.
Feats of mythic proportions follow. Somehow Newt’s search requires him to do some extremely loose-limbed dancing to hypnotise an army of vicious prawny mantis creatures on a perilous rocky ledge inside a dark labyrinth. hilarious. The best scene.
Eddie Redmayne says it’s a wizarding heist movie, an Ocean’s Eleven set in a wizarding world. It’s certainly that. It’s enjoyable, not only for Harry Potter fans, although they will find things with special meaning for them in this prequel. Tangled subplots yes, but overall, it’s a load of fun. Highly recommended.
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The first person to bring an image or hardcopy of this review to Starlight cinema Taupō qualifies for a free ticket to Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore.