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There is an undeniably smouldering love story built into J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spin-off/prequel/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.Warner Bros.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Directed by David Yates

Written by Steve Kloves, based on a screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Starring Jude Law, Eddie Redmayne and Mads Mikkelsen

Classification PG; 144 minutes

Opens in theatres April 15

“Can you smell it? This tension?” So asks supervillain wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) to dogooding wizard Dumbledore (Jude Law) early in the latest Fantastic Beasts go-round. And, for a brief moment, you can indeed sense the tension – emotional, sexual – between the film’s two preposterously handsome stars, who are afforded a quick opportunity to make nakedly textual what has so far been the series’ queer subtext.

There is an undeniably smouldering love story built into J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spin-off/prequel/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, as these two magic men square off over the fate of the world with their sturdy wands. If this is where the Wizarding World is going – maturing with its audience, rather than insisting on continuing to infantilize it – then let’s do it, boys! Unfortunately, the tension that Grindelwald first sniffs in the air dissipates almost immediately, turning The Secrets of Dumbledore into as much a franchise chore as any contemporary “cinematic universe.”

Completely impenetrable to audiences who haven’t watched all eight Harry Potter films plus the previous two Fantastic Beasts adventures (the last one which was released four long years ago), The Secrets of Dumbledore is alternately overloaded and bare-cupboard empty. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who are both as much a part of the Wizarding World by now as Rowling herself (or maybe we should start calling her She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), seem to recognize their film’s need for a glossary, stopping the action several times to reintroduce key players and rehash events.

The gist: Just before the start of the Second World War, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is set on a journey by a young Dumbledore to stop the Hitler-like Grindelwald, who wants to start a race war between wizards and non-magic muggles. Perhaps a quick assassination – or, you know, a spell! – might do the trick, but for some reason Dumbledore has Newt and his friends embark on a series of truly go-nowhere missions, each more pointless than the last. There are visits to super-scorpion-guarded prisons and mountaintop castles and even a prolonged stretch in Berlin, where the filmmakers cannot seem to decide whether their Third Reich metaphor is too crass or too smart for their fans.

It is all extraordinarily interminable, even if Yates and company had the good sense to swap out Johnny Depp for Mikkelsen this time around. This is mostly because producers wanted to wash off the stink of Depp’s public persona, but also perhaps because the actor nearly cast the previous film’s audience under a sleepy-time-tea spell, so lifeless was his performance as Grindelwald.

Whatever the case, whenever Mikkelsen is onscreen, especially if he’s facing off against Law, is when the film comes the tiniest bit alive. But regrettably this is Newt’s journey, and Redmayne’s twitchy-to-a-T schtick is borderline unwatchable this time around – never more so than when paired with muggle sidekick Dan Fogler, who is back as baker-slash-audience-avatar Jacob Kowalski.

Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore and Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.Warner Bros.

At the moment, there are still two more Fantastic Beasts films still to come. Although perhaps sensing waning interest – and the fact that Rowling could these days implode the series with a single tweet – The Secrets of Dumbledore appears to wrap things up. If we must kiss these characters goodbye – without, unfortunately, actually seeing them kiss – then that’s just how it goes. Life’s a witch, and then your franchise dies.

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