That’s Okay, Dumbledore, I Don’t Really Need to Know Your Secrets

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (CREDIT:
Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, Jessica Williams, Katherine Waterston

Director: David Yates

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Wand Thrusts Knocking People Down

Release Date: April 15, 2022 (Theaters)

There’s one moment in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore that left me responding with a resounding blank stare. Well, actually, there was more than one moment like that. But there was one particular instance where I’m pretty sure that the hoped-for reaction was instead a pumped fist and a round of hoots and hollers. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what I’m talking about. One of our heroes informs us that their ragtag crew consists of a magizoologist, his assistant, “a wizard descended from a very old family,” a teacher, and a muggle. I guess the idea is that this isn’t exactly the A-team, but they all sound pretty capable to me! I can understand doubting the non-magical fellow, except that the previous two entries in this franchise have already established his bona fides. This all leads me to suspect that Dumbledore’s secrets aren’t as mind-blowing as advertised.

And that impenetrability doesn’t exactly pair well with the complications of watching something written by J.K. Rowling in 2022. If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid her public persona the past several years, then I regret to inform you that she’s now just as famous for her highly public transphobic views about gender as she is for conjuring magical fantasy worlds. But hey, the Harry Potter saga preached a message of tolerance that seemed to stand in stark contrast to those opinions, so maybe Secrets of Dumbledore might as well, or at the very least be inoffensive.

But even beyond any moral reckonings, there is a mighty struggle at the core of watching this film. It has the vibe of a central creative voice given free rein to the point of absurdity. Rowling is credited as a co-screenwriter and one of five producers, but this is her brainchild set loose, unchecked and unbound. I’m not saying that someone needed to say no to her, but a little interpretation for those of us who don’t live in her brain would have been nice. The climactic battle is one of those scenes that’s so typical of modern blockbusters where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and I just found myself profoundly confused. What are the stakes here? Why is Grindelwald such a bad wizard anyway? Maybe I missed an obvious explanation, and I’ll gladly welcome anyone who can point that out to me. But I can’t help but feel that I was watching someone tell us a story that was supposed to have self-evident importance, and that just wasn’t coming across.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is Recommended If You Are: J.K. Rowling

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Blood Pacts

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Knows What It Wants to Say, But It’s Still a Messy Slog

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Jude Law

Director: David Yates

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Fiery and Occasionally Hate-Filled Magic

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is the wizarding world’s worst nightmare, at least for those witches and warlocks who care more about morality than power. His evil is more complicated and confounding than that of Lord Voldemort, as he has a knack for convincing people to act against their best interests. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows what devastating points it wants to make with Grindelwald, but they are stuck within a bunch of dithering around. The film climaxes with the dark wizard holding a rally, bringing to mind charismatic politicians who have sowed hatred throughout history. Even though Grindelwald has made it clear that he wants pure-blooded wizards to rule over all magical and non-magical folks, he uses suspect but alluring promises to convince some people who very much do not agree with his agenda to join him. This is irrational, but it’s a type of irrational behavior that has caused real devastation. However, instead of coming of as a frightening warning, these unreasonable decisions all just feel nonsensical.

Take for example Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who is in love with non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) but lives in a society in which their marriage would be illegal. There is no way she could reasonably be seduced by Grindelwald, who would not support their union except for how it might offer him a chance for manipulation. There could be a powerfully relevant story about Queenie being swayed to the dark side, but instead her shift is too sudden and too jarring, and thus ineffective. Her subplot is a microcosm of The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s problems.

Elsewhere, there is plenty of other business going on. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in Paris looking for some sort of MacGuffin or another. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is becoming ever more dangerous for whatever reason. There are farcical misunderstandings about who is engaged to whom. Various magical creatures act in ways that are kind of cute and/or frightening, but not particularly memorable. In conclusion, Jude Law is a fine young Dumbledore (and perhaps a fine young everything), and any future Fantastic Beasts installments should not be afraid to use him more often.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is Recommended If You Like: Every nook and cranny of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but without getting too worked up about the details, The Young Pope

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Salamander Eyes

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Justice League’ is Okay, I Guess

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ciarán Hinds, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Connie Nielsen

Director: Zack Snyder

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Localized Explosions, Heat Vision Mishaps, and Grotesque Insectoids

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Would you rather have a true auteurist vision that is decidedly ugly and off-putting, or a plainly adequate film with little distinct personality? If you want something to endlessly discuss and theorize about, go with the former. But if you want something to actually watch, go with the latter.

Justice League is perhaps the least Zack Snyder-y film of Zack Snyder’s career. Absent completely is the washed-out color palette. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is mostly workmanlike, but he does what he can in a limited sandbox, and the result is actually pleasant to look at. Colors are not only present, they’re vibrant! There is an early scene of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince walking along some lush greenery, and it makes me wish the whole film had just been Justice League Hanging Out in the Park. The action might still fit within Snyder’s kinetic pinball wheelhouse, but it is not as garishly stylized as usual. And because this is a post-Wonder Woman world, the hard-to-be-a-god, brooding cynicism has given way to genuine hopefulness. Really, the only Snyder signature that unequivocally remains is the best one, i.e., the rediscovered rock song scoring the opening credits (this time, it’s Norwegian singer Sigrid’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”).

The main duty of Justice League is finding a way forward after the colossal slog that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice by way assembling its titular superteam and resurrecting its most iconic member. The returning headliners, namely Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman, unquestionably know how to handle this heft. Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman convey their characters economically enough. Ray Fisher could use some more prime time as Cyborg, but it’s an okay start. Overall, it’s refreshing that everyone is eager to team up because they simply recognize how much the entire world is at stake. Isn’t that how superheroes were always meant to be?

As for Superman’s rise from the grave, it isn’t surprising, nor is it meant to be. The (theoretical) fun of it is seeing how it plays out. And on that point, it is fairly entertaining. When Supes comes to, his mind is a bit scrambled, causing him to indiscriminately attack whomever is in the path of his heat vision. Henry Cavill plays it like his body vomiting up the last remnants of Snyder’s inexplicably distasteful take on the Man of Steel. This concession to a lighter version is in fact indicative of the whole Justice League ethos. Finally, the DC Extended Universe is allowed to crack jokes! And I’m not talking glib, Marvel-style one-liners, but actual character moments, like malapropisms and other exposures of vulnerability. Ma Kent (Diane Lane), for one, informs Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that Clark said Lois was “the thirstiest young woman he ever met” (she means hungriest). It’s okay to laugh!

As for the actual story engine, the DCEU is still testing our patience. If this were a pilot episode of a Justice League TV show, it would be fine enough. A little long, but a decent setup. And if you’re in the business of silver linings, that is the best takeaway to come away with here. Future sequels are inevitable, and I can see a roadmap where they might actually be good. The best villains are being saved for later, but this time around the big bad is incredibly perfunctory. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds under a lot of CG) is some sort of gargoyle whose motivation does not go anywhere beyond “try to take over the world.” His army of insect-men is just a nuisance in every capacity. It’s fair to save the best for later, but it helps to actually get to the best at some point.

Justice League is Recommended If You Like: Incremental Improvement

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Doomsday Clocks