Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Total Film
For the most part, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a triumphant return to the Harry Potter universe. J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world only grows in complexity when relocated to America and the new cast of characters feel like they’ve been around forever. The beasts are, yes, fantastic, and the war between Grindelwald and Dumbledore that the series is working towards feels genuinely dark and terrifying. All until Johnny Depp appears on screen.
It’s never a good sign when the introduction of the most evil wizard of all time is greeted by the audience laughing, but that’s the reaction he got in my screening. Maybe it’s the fact he looked like Mortdecai after a few weeks sleeping rough. Even considering the broad blockbuster tone of the film, Depp hams things up horribly in his brief minutes of screen time, sneering through his platinum blond moustache like a rejected Bond villain.
His introduction itself is genius. Hidden beneath the alias of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), an American auror, Depp/Grindelwald is exposed as he tries to flee. The reveal is a real shock, with Graves resembling more of a rogue cop than an evil mastermind.
What’s most disappointing is that Farrell is actually far more convincing in the role. He feels complex and human, with a believable philosophy behind his desire to stop the magical community living in secret.
It might feel a little harsh to judge Depp on such a brief appearance, but he hasn’t got much goodwill left with audiences. His last great performance was nearly a decade ago in Sweeney Todd, and on first impressions his time as Grindelwald will be defined by the ridiculous costumes and over-acting for which he’s become infamous. It looks like Depp’s pantomime portrayal might ruin this promising new series. Hopefully he’ll prove everybody wrong.