Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

Sometimes we’re given the choice between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.

Albus Dumbledore knows this all too well. He took the easy path a long time ago and tried to convince himself it was also the right path. But he knows better now.

His former friend Gellert Grindelwald is bent on taking over the wizarding world and enslaving all nonmagical people. And he’s on the verge of succeeding in his nefarious plots. But not, Dumbledore hopes, if a few brave souls are willing to do what’s right instead of what’s easy.

Newt Scamander is one such brave soul. Truth be told, Newt would much rather pursue his passion for magizoology—the study and care of magical creatures—than thwart a global rebellion. But as it happens, Newt and Grindelwald have crossed paths more than once in Grindelwald’s campaign for power.

And as much as Newt would love to ignore what’s happening and continue chasing after his cherished fantastic beasts, his character won’t allow it. He has to do what’s right.

But how are a magizooligist, his indispensable assistant, a school teacher, a wizard from an ancient French family and a Muggle (the British term for a nonmagical person) supposed to take down the greatest and most evil wizard in four centuries?

Positive Elements

Dumbledore admits that he hasn’t always chosen what’s right over what’s easy. But Newt tells him that even if we make mistakes, we can still try to make things right. And Dumbledore spends much of this film righting his many wrongs.

Newt comforts Dumbledore over the loss of Dumbledore’s sister, suggesting that she was spared pain in a quick death. And though Dumbledore doesn’t entirely believe that rationale, he tells Newt that his honesty is a gift, even if it can be painful at times to hear.

Dumbledore puts his life on the line to save a family member. Jacob Kowalski, Newt’s nonmagical best friend, risks himself to save a stranger from harm. Newt traverses a dangerous cave to rescue his brother and nearly dies trying to save a magical creature. Plus, every person who stands against Grindelwald knows that they might not make it out alive.

And while these acts are seemingly small, it echoes the larger theme that rang throughout the Harry Potter series about sacrificial love.  And it perhaps formed the basis for Dumbledore’s theory about the subject in those films. (Dumbledore’s own demonstration of sacrificial love actually becomes the catalyst for breaking a blood oath between himself and Grindelwald.)

Dumbledore tells Jacob to stop doubting himself, commending Jacob’s bravery and admiring Jacob’s heart full of love. Dumbledore sacrificially declines a potential honor, saying he still has work to do to right his wrongs.

While lying isn’t actually a good thing, the fibs of a few characters to Grindelwald protect many others from harm.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the next two paragraphs] In the previous Fantastic Beasts film, Grindelwald told Credence–a boy with a mysterious and uncontrollable magical ability–that Credence was really a Dumbledore and that Albus had abandoned him as a child. Here, We learn this was only partially true. Credence is, in fact, a Dumbledore (Albus’s nephew, to be exact). But the family never knew he existed. And both Albus and his brother, Aberforth (Credence’s father), make amends with the boy, apologizing for the pain Credence suffered and welcoming him home.

Spiritual Elements

The spell-casting magic we see here is the same magic from the Harry Potter universe. As was the case in that overarching story, people are either born with the gift or they aren’t.

That said, Jacob (who has never shown any magical ability) is given a wand—though, as Newt notes, without the core that would actually make it real. However, what Newt doesn’t know is that the wand was previously enchanted. Jacob accidentally activates the charm placed on it, causing the wand to create an uncontrollable cyclone-like event inside a ballroom.

The magic in the third Fantastic Beasts film also gets considerably darker. Grindelwald uses some form of necromancy to bring a creature he killed back to life—though we later learn it’s not truly alive. Rather, it has simply been reanimated to serve Grindelwald’s purposes.

This story also has a strong focus on a magical beast called a chilan. Dear-like in appearance, it cannot be deceived, because it can see into a person’s soul. As such, it has become custom in the wizarding world to have a chilan walk before potential political candidates since the chilan will bow before anyone who is pure of heart.

Grindelwald has a unique ability to see glimpses of the future. Someone mentions Christmas.

Sexual Content

Though it’s been hinted at for some time now, Dumbledore officially comes out as gay in this story. He admits the reason he made a magical blood oath to never harm Grindelwald was because he was in love with the man. Belatedly, he realizes this oath was foolhardy, since Grindelwald ultimately betrayed that love and tried to manipulate it for his own purposes.

A man learns that a lover of his had a child out of wedlock many years ago. Several men catcall a woman, though we later learn it was a ruse to get another man to defend her. A couple gets married.

Violent Content

Although the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts film have never shied away from violence, this one gets a little gorier.

Several people are hung upside down in a cave-like prison, with lights marking each individual prisoner. When those lights go out (created by firefly-esque creatures), a giant scorpion-ish beast grabs them with a claw and eats them (just offscreen). It then deposits the guts onto a ledge for hundreds of mini-scorpion beasts to consume.

When Newt’s brother, Theseus, accidentally steps on one of the smaller scorpion-things, the bigger one begins firing balls of molten lava at them.

Moments after giving birth, a chilan is killed by a spell fired from Grindelwald’s followers. Newt, who was assisting with the birth, scoops the baby chilan into his arms and flees, firing spells in self-defense as the followers give chase. They manage to knock Newt unconscious and savagely throw the infant creature into a cloth sack.

Later, when Grindelwald is presented with the small chilan, he slits its throat. (And he later reanimates its corpse to serve his purposes.) He uses “crucio” (an Unforgivable Curse) to torture Jacob and declares a war on Muggles. Grindelwald sends Credence on a mission to kill Dumbledore, and when Credence fails, he attacks him. (And later, when Credence betrays him, he tries to kill him with a spell, which is blocked by the Dumbledore brothers.)

Because of the blood oath between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, they can’t even think about betraying each other, or else a charmed necklace will kill them. (And this necklace nearly strangles Dumbledore when he demonstrates how it works.)

When Credence comes to kill Dumbledore, Dumbledore creates an alternate reality without Credence’s knowledge. That allows them to duel (and cause mass destruction) without harming anyone or thing in real life.

We hear about the death of Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana. Dumbledore feels guilty because he is not sure who fired the spell that killed her: Aberforth, Grindelwald or himself.

Characters trade offensive spells in duels (though Newt and his friends never fire anything lethal). People get knocked down and knocked out. Some use magic to set things on fire. Enchanted books and pastries attack people.

Jacob hits a guy in the face with a suitcase. Newt scolds a niffler, one of his creatures, for biting another creature on the bottom. Someone stops an assassination attempt involving a poisoned drink.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear two uses of “h—” and one use each of the British expletives “bloody” and “sod.” Someone also exclaims, “Merlin’s beard.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Some scenes take place at bars. Jacob has an alcoholic wizarding beverage called “Gigglewater,” which makes him laugh uncontrollably.

Other Negative Elements

Although Grindelwald made promises (and won followers) in the previous film by promising to prevent a great worldwide war between the Muggles, it’s clear he is disgusted by nonmagical people, calling them “animals.” Soon, his real intentions are revealed: He doesn’t want to lead anyone, he just wants everyone to follow him.

Despite these faults, Grindelwald is shockingly absolved of his crimes against Muggles (including murder) and allowed to run for President of the International Confederation of Wizards. The man who allows this, Anton Vogel (the current President) chose this “easy” option because he truly believes Grindelwald will lose the election and end his campaign for power.

Grindelwald manipulates the pain of others for his own means. He tells one man (whose sister he killed), “When we allow ourselves to be consumed by anger, the only victim is ourself.” Then he magically removes the memory of the man’s sister so the man will pledge loyalty to him.

People lie. Children trick Jacob into eating some wizard treats called Cockroach Clusters.

Conclusion

Ever since Harry Potter’s arrival, families have been divided about whether the franchise is appropriate, considering its ties to magic. And although the series has made it evident that the people and creatures featured here are born with their abilities, the story can still delve into “dark” and “light” magic.

Grindelwald is a dark wizard. He twists magic for nefarious purposes. He delves into necromancy. He uses spells which have been deemed “Unforgivable” by the International Confederation of Wizards. And his endgame is to rule the magical and nonmagical worlds alike as a sort of wizarding Hitler. And I don’t use that term lightly. Visual cues in this movie (and previous entries, for that matter) point toward a Nazi-esque regime.

Albus Dumbledore is the only wizard on the light side strong enough to defeat him. But Grindelwald nipped that in the bud by making it impossible for Dumbledore to openly oppose him, using a blood spell. (Which Albus thought was a great idea at the time since he was in love with Grindelwald.)

But Dumbledore, now older and wiser, realizes that his feelings were naive and immature. And while he still can’t duel Grindelwald, he can assemble a team of brave souls who are willing to do the right thing no matter the cost.

That’s the movie’s main theme: doing what is right, no matter how difficult it may be, because it is right.

And this theme puts parents in an interesting position, as well. Is it right to take your family to see Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore?

Heroism and sacrifice abound here. But parents—especially of younger fans of the series—have plenty of problems to ponder here, too. Dumbledore’s love for Grindelwald is romantic in nature. The violence witnessed in this film is gorier in places than previous films. Grindelwald uses necromancy. And we learn that the reason a child grew up with an abusive adoptive mother was because his parents had him out of wedlock (and his father never knew he existed).

Those are heavy themes to wade through in a movie that clearly aims to delight a younger audience. But don’t let Newt’s cute and cuddly beasts fool you: This is every bit a PG-13 movie, and a grim one at times, too.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.