Warning: As you might expect, this post discusses the ending of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
In today’s blockbuster universe, most major castings are announced at least a year in advance, which is why it was so surprising when, mere weeks before the movie’s release, news broke that Johnny Depp had joined the cast of Fantastic Beasts. At the time, Depp’s part was shrouded in mystery, with Deadline only reporting that the actor had “a tiny turn” in the film, but would play a bigger part in the movie’s sequels. The news prompted speculation that Depp would play a certain character from Harry Potter lore, but his role remained unconfirmed until the movie’s release, when we learned …
Well, we learned that everyone was right: Depp is in fact playing the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, a historical figure who loomed large in the backstory of the original Potter books. If you’ve forgotten, Grindelwald was essentially the wizarding world’s analogue to Hitler. He came to power in the middle of the 20th century, spreading the message that wizards were the master race, before being defeated in a duel by Albus Dumbledore. (As readers learned in Deathly Hallows, the two men had been close as adolescents, a bond that took on additional gravity once J.K. Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay.) There was some very complicated business about a wand, and then Grindelwald was murdered by Voldemort. Good riddance.
Fantastic Beasts nods at this history, a little, with a montage of newspaper headlines detailing Grindelwald’s rise, followed by a scene in which he shows up at a random house and kills a bunch of people. Here he’s seen only from behind, so the audience gets a good look at his Hitler Youth haircut. (There are so many Hitler Youth haircuts in Fantastic Beasts that the film at times seems like it’s taking place in McCarren Park.)
Depp doesn’t get his grand introduction until very late in the movie, but what an introduction it is. For most of the film, Eddie Redmayne has been doggedly pursued by Colin Farrell’s character, a magical policeman who’s investigating mysterious happenings around the city while also finding the time to press his forehead up against Ezra Miller. Then, at the movie’s climax, Farrell suddenly starts making an evil-sounding speech about how wizards should be able to live out in the open, they shouldn’t bow to Muggles, etc. Okay, you might think, Farrell’s going to turn out to be one of Grindelwald’s henchmen, and that’s going to be how Johnny Depp is going to come in.
That is not how Johnny Depp comes in.
Instead, while Farrell is battling a squad of magical policemen, Eddie Redmayne sneaks up behind him and throws a very sticky magical beast at him. (Sticky beasts — his only weakness!) Once he’s captured, the good guys somehow realize they should cast a spell on him, which reveals that Colin Farrell has been Johnny Depp in disguise the whole time — a plot twist we should have seen coming since they have the same haircut. Depp’s onscreen for about 30 seconds before he’s whisked off to wizard jail.
This is a terrible plot twist for a number of reasons. Not only does the most powerful dark wizard in the world spend his free time moonlighting as a police officer, he’s also easily defeated by a gormless zoologist throwing around a spare pet. And since Grindelwald is obviously going to escape in the next installment, what’s even the point of introducing him like this?
The point, of course, is to set up the (four!) future installments in the Magical Beasts franchise. And Depp’s character isn’t the only one to get this treatment. Back in August, Zoë Kravitz was also added to the movie’s cast, also in an unknown role. You know who Zoë Kravtiz plays in Fantastic Beasts? She plays a picture in a locket. There’s a whole scene, possibly the least dramatic scene of 2016, in which the movie’s new psychic character finds the locket and explains in great detail how Kravitz is Eddie Redmayne’s lost love and he’s still pining for her even though she’s probably a dark wizard. It stops the entire film in its tracks.
The trades report that both Depp and Kravtiz will have larger roles in the sequels. It would be hard for them to have smaller ones. But before they appear in this series for real, I’d like to make a plea: Filmmakers, you do not have to spend your movie laying down breadcrumbs to set up your sequel, especially if dropping those crumbs requires a series of magical narrative contortions. Relax — if people like your movie, they will be curious about the next one! This kind of half-assed foreshadowing does no one any good.