There is no doubt that the Fantastic Beasts franchise has had its share of problems from fans being disappointed that the story was a prequel to several controversies that all hit Fantastic Beasts 2 at once. Still, perhaps none seem as dire as losing the actor that plays their main villain.
Johnny Depp, who played Gellert Grindelwald, will be leaving the series. Depp going is a real problem for the story as it’s a prequel.
The story can’t just write Grindelwald out as it is part of the canon that he doesn’t get defeated for 18 more years by Albus Dumbledore. How will Fantastic Beasts 3 deal with Depp’s departure?
What happened in ‘Fantastic Beasts‘
In the first movie, we are introduced to Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, arriving in New York City with a suitcase full of his magical beasts. The beasts escape, and he gets arrested by the Ministry of Magic for endangering the secret that magic is real.
When one of Newt’s creatures seemingly kills a U.S. senator, Scamander is accused of being in league with Gellert Grindelwald, the most terrible dark wizard of the time. Eventually, Scamander proved his innocence, recaptures the beasts and exposes that the head of The Ministry of Magic, played by Colin Farrell, was secretly Grindelwald in disguise.
As his magic transformation spell is stripped away, we see Grindelwald’s real face as played by Johnny Depp as he is arrested.
What happened in ‘Fantastic Beasts 2′
The second movie starts with Grindelwald’s escape. Grindelwald heads to Europe, where he hopes to find a powerful magician to help him conquer the world.
Scamander and former classmate Leta LeStrange, played by Zoe Kravitz, head to Europe to find the magician first and recapture Grindelwald. Everyone arrives in Europe, with different pasts and motivations, and all looking for Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller.
The story ends with Grindelwald escaping capture with Scamander on his trail.
How will the franchise portray Grindelwald without Johnny Depp?
Fantastic Beasts 2 ends on a cliffhanger with Grindelwald escaping. Worse, it is part of the Harry Potter lore that Grindelwald is not defeated until 1945 by Dumbledore (played in these movies by Jude Law).
They don’t have the option of killing him off and making someone else the master villain as they do in many series. The character of Grindelwald must remain, but Depp is leaving the production. So how can the character continue without the actor? There are two leading theories.
One is the “Marvel” solution. In Iron Man, James Rhodes (the character who would eventually become War Machine) is played by Terrence Howard, but for Iron Man 2, they recast the role with Don Cheadle.
How did they explain a different actor playing the same character? They didn’t. Marvel assumed people would accept another actor playing the role except for this tiny wink at the audience; they don’t mention the change in actors.
Could Fantastic Beasts recast the part and not mention it? It’s possible but unlikely, Depp had a very distinct appearance as Grindelwald, and it wouldn’t be easy for the audience to accept someone new without reason.
The other solution involves magic. Fantastic Beasts 3 will be set in the Harry Potter universe where magic is real. Grindelwald spent most of the first movie played by Farrell, explaining that he used a transformation spell.
They could conceivably recast Farrell in the part and claim Grindelwald used the spell again to disguise himself. It even makes sense as he is the best-known criminal at the time in the Harry Potter universe and would want to travel incognito.
Scamander did learn to undo the transformation spell in the first film, but even if they don’t want to use that device, a potion called the Polyjuice Potion can make you look like whoever you want. One of the most compelling reasons to see Fantastic Beasts 3 may not be for the plot but to see how the writers deal with this sticky problem.