Fantastic Beasts Bumped, Depp Dumped

There were two big bits of news this last week in Warner Brothers’ Fantastic Beasts film franchise.

The first is that the third Beasts film, still not named, has been pushed back from its November 2021 release date to sometime in the summer of 2022. Variety covers that story here.

The second is the announcement that Johnny Depp will not be playing the role of Gellert Grindelwald in Beasts 3. He was asked to step down after losing a libel case against his ex-wife and he agreed to do so sans protest (which suggests he was bought out with a generous settlement). From that story’s Variety report:

“I wish to let you know that I have been asked to resign by Warner Bros. from my role as Grindelwald in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and I have respected and agreed to that request,” he wrote Friday on Instagram.

Depp’s exit from the “Harry Potter” spinoff series comes days after he lost his libel case against The Sun, a British tabloid that published an article in 2018 alleging he was a “wife beater.” Depp said he plans to appeal the ruling.

TIME magazine has run a piece already with the title, ‘Just Cancel the Fantastic Beasts Franchise Already.’ The reasons they offer for the cancellation are all Critique related, which is to say, that the franchise is forever tainted by accusations against principal players of violating Social Justice Canonical Law. The secular fundamentalists policing our culture assert that Depp’s supposed acts of violence against his wife, Ezra Miller’s supposed attack on a woman in an Iceland bar, and Rowling’s supposed transphobia add up to three strikes against the series.

I agree with the conclusion but differ with every piece as well as the logic of their argument.

There is credible evidence that Depp is not guilty of beating his wife. That he lost a libel case in the United Kingdom against a paper that said he was a “wife beater” does not prove that he was, in fact, abusive, only that he did not clear the very high bar of evidence to win a libel suit in the UK. Ezra Miller, certainly a very troubled young man, has not been charged with a crime or convicted of anything. And Rowling is not a “transphobe” but a women who speaks out against the overreach of transgender activists in her home country.

And if all three were guilty of the charges against them, I still think it odious that the PC Police and Twitterati have been empowered to cancel them and that Warner Brothers could be bullied into kowtowing to the culture kampf commissars.

Having said that, I am all on board with the cancellation of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise. Good riddance.

Its raison d’etre was Warner Brothers owning the film rights to Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts textbook, their threatening to concoct a story of it, and her move to protect her legacy from that profit-taking. Harry Potter fandom was on board with Beasts because it meant more Wizarding World cinema, and, alas, because the Woke crowd hoped against hope for a celebration of Gay Dumbledore. All of that pointed to a disaster in the making and the first two movies fulfilled this expectation.

Rowling, writing as ‘Robert Galbraith,’ meanwhile is doing the finest work of her life. Troubled Blood is a brilliant piece of detective fiction that in its allegorical and anagogical layers transcends the genre. Every work day she spends on correcting Steve Kloves’ Fantastic Beasts screenplays, as he “fits the woman to the dress” of blockbuster Hollywood formula, is time lost to her much more important and lasting legacy, the Cormoran Strike series.

I repeat what I have written here more than once: if there must be a new Wizarding World film franchise because Warner Brothers owns rights to Rowling ancillary texts, they should follow the wildly successful two-step formula of the Hogwarts Saga adaptations: Rowling first writes the novels and then Warner Brothers butchers them. That way Serious Readers get an actual Rowling text rather than a screenplay about which we can only guess what parts are hers and what are the compromises and cuts made by the two Davids.

There is no need for a Fantastic Beasts franchise, however, so I confess to some cautious hope that last week’s announced “delayed release” is code for “effectively cancelled” rather than being due to Warner Brothers’ calculations about their most profitable movie release sequence in the next two years. Rowling-Galbraith has said she is hard at work on Strike6 and anything that distracts her from that task is cause to lament.



  1. Anthony Lyle says

    Thanks for keeping us updated, John. I’m hoping we get a last film, if only to complete the series. But for true cathartic completion, I definitely agree that Rowling needs the full runway of a manuscript to seal the deal.

  2. Kelly Loomis says

    The driving force behind my desire to see all of the FB movies was to see the development of Dumbledore and also his past with Grindelwald – those things that Rowling has had in her head forever. All the other characters are an afterthought in my mind. Of course I would much rather read a novelized version than a WB interpretation of that story. I understand Rowling’s desire to see the story told as she would want it but she basically sold that away when WB bought the rights to FB.

    Now that I have finally read and bought into the Strike series, I am getting my Rowling fix that way. WW fandom has somewhat ruined the HP world for me.Of course, not my love and marvel at the original book series, but any discussion other than HogPro. Social media and the current cancel culture seems to dominate and drive so much in our world today. It’s rather sobering.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Kelly Loomis writes, “I understand Rowling’s desire to see the story told as she would want it but she basically sold that away when WB bought the rights to FB.” I wonder… How much would that depend on various things including the details of the contract(s) and perhaps independently the ‘intellectual property’ rights where characters and other Wizarding World details are concerned, and again, the willingness of Warner Bros. to ‘play nice’ with an eye to possible future dealings with a not-so-cancelled-after-all JKR? And she can certainly afford good lawyers, if it seems worth her while…

    So, I would hope, in the fullness of time, whether during Strike, even lightly with the left hand alone, as it were, or thereafter, for ‘the real Scamander et al. back-story’, in however many novels seem indicated.

  4. Sabine Lechtenfeld says

    I see three different aspects here:

    As a criminal psychologist I am not at all convinced that Johnny Depp is a habitual wife beater. None of his former partners reported this kind of reprehensible behavior. His ex-partners have actually voiced serious doubts about Amber Heard’s accusations. And Amber Heard has not delivered convincing material proof so far. There are actually a few indications that she may have concocted some of her accusations. I think it is very regrettable that Warner Brothers caved in to the reactions of the noisiest social media users just because Depp lost a libel suit against a British tabloid. I always respected JKR for remaining loyal to Depp. But I guess that she eventually had to give in.

    That said:

    From an artistic POV I was never happy with Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald. From the first moment when Colin Farell’s character morphed into Johnny Depp he felt out of place like a niggling pebble in my shoe, and Depp could never convince me that his character wasn’t just good old overacting Johnny Depp with a silly artificially blond wig, but the ruthless but brilliant and charming young wizard with with whom the teenager Albus Dumbledore fell deeply in love. Johnny Depp was so obviously a bad guy that it just wasn’t credible that he was able to seduce Albus as well as the masses. I think it was a huge mistake not to keep the excellent Colin Farrel. The dumping of Depp may create an opportunity to hire an actor who may be much better suited for this important character. There have been countless suggestions as soon as Depp’s dumping hit the news. Unfortunately the most obvious solution – to give the role back to Farrell – might create too many continuity issues. The Farrell ship might have sailed. But there are many great actors out there who would probably deliver a convincing and charismatic Grindelwald. Maybe, there is still a chance for a touching intimate scene with Albus and Gellert. This would simply not have been credible with Johnny Depp because he was so oviously creepy and loathsome!

    Would it be better to simply cancel the whole ill fated franchise?

    I agree that there have been serious issues from the very beginning. JKR isn’t a brilliant script writer and would have needed to been supervised. The franchise also didn’t manage to attract and keep a core audience. The first movie was far more suitable for a much younger audience than the second installment which addresssed really very dark issues. It may also not have been such a great idea to distribute and stretch the planned story over five long movies which means that the last movie may come out at least ten years after the first movie. It’s almost impossible to keep the necessary interest in the overall story arc alive for such a long time. Movie franchises are very different from a series of novels like the HP novels which can be easily read again and again and where the audience grew up with the characters of the novels. And each novel told a complete story. Only THBP ended with one of the most famous cliffhangers ever! Also, it makes many people very angry when they spend good money for a ticket – which can be quite expensive for a family – and then find out that the movie doesn’t stand on it’s own feet and that it only makes sense in connection with the previous and the next movie. The Marvel franchise may be an exception – but most of these movies could be watched without any detailed knowledge of all the other movies which belonged to this huge shared universe. Only the penultimate movie ended with a solid cliffhanger. But the solution hit the world wide cinemas in less than a year! Since it was easy to keep the fans interested for such a relatively short time the final movie broke all box office records. But when the third installment of the FB franchise will finally be released in 2022, most people who saw the two previous movies, may have forgotten about the franchise or have lost interest – especially since they know that the third movie will still not offer the whole story.
    All that said, I would be very disappointed if the FB franchise will die a silent and little mourned death. Despite all the negative aspects it’s obvious that JKR is a consummate lot architect and still a great story teller. While I would have prefered if she had written a series of FB novels, I find the overall story she wants to tell us very interesting, and I want to know where JKR wants to take us! I really want to know about Credence’s true origins and the blood pact between Dumbledore and Grindelwald and many other mysteries which have been carefully consructed and hidden by JKR who actually,does her best work as a mystery writer. Unfortunately I never really enjoyed her work as Robert Galbraith and I could never fully embrace PI Cormoran Strike. IMO realistic settings in the here and now aren’t exactly JKR’s forte, and her undeniable talent for inventing creative and whimsical details works much better in a phantastic setting. Harry Potter and his friends and Dumbledore as well as Severus Snape, who may well be one of the best tragic literary heroes ever, seem to be more alive to me than Strike and his entourage. I read the first installment, and I mildly enjoyed it. But each to their own. It’s great that JKR found an adult readership as a mystery writer. Maybe, I should try to get into the Strike universe again. But I am far more interested in the many untold secrets of FB. Therefore I seriously hope that the franchise will continue and that some of the issues will be fixed. And a new Gellert Grindelwald may generate renewed interest in the franchise.

  5. Sabine Lechtenfeld says

    The Corona virus might be a much bigger threat to the FB franchise than Depp’s dumping, Ezra Miller’s escapades or JKR’s alleged violations of political correctness. We don’t know how long this crisis will last. But expensive Hollywood productions might become an endangered species since they need a huge number of people who are willing to see these movies in a theater. Here in Germany the theaters are closed again. And even when they will open again, many people won’t buy tickets because they either think that the risk is too great or they don’t enjoy to watch a movie while wearing a face mask. And for the forseeable future the theaters have to operate under certain safety conditions which means that many seats need to remain empty. I highly doubt that an expensive franchise which is already in trouble will turn out to be very profitable. Maybe, WB should sell the remaining FB movies to a streaming platform like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This might not be the worst fate for this troubled franchise. Since these small-screen platforms are better suited for character driven narratives and great acting instead of big action set pieces, good old story telling might have a better chance. I am especially critical of the current 3D nonsense. If it is done well, 3D can be really great. But there are only very few well done movies, where 3D truly adds something important to the overall experience. “Gravity” and Scorsese’s “Hugo Cabret” are two of them. But unfortunately no HP or FB movie belongs into that category although there are many fantastic scenes which could have been truly magic in 3D if the director had known how to do it, and if this still not quite perfect technology hadn’t been just an afterthought.

  6. Joanne Gray says

    It’s generally not a good thing when the more riveting action is behind the scene rather than on the screen. At this point it would rationally seem to be a smart move to cut their losses and hopefully just take some good lessons from the enterprise–that was plagued with bad luck and bad behaviors. Disappointing second entry that brought delays to address screenplay issues–forced delays that moved third episode filming all the way into the “annus horribilis”: 2020.

    It would seem a rational choice, to anyone looking in from the outside, that Warner Brothers should just pull the plug on Fantastic Beasts. However, Warner Brothers much like Shakespeare’s MacBeth–who found himself so far into a bad situation that “…that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’vr.” That is because they would still have to pay out on contracts and on the money borrowed to make the movie but would have no hope of making any of that back.

    When they forced Depp out they also had to pay him for the part he was no longer playing (around $10,000,000). It was in his contract. (After seeing the depositions of both, I agree that Depp definitely looks the more credible (truthful) of the two.)

    But if Depp had that clause in his contract–there is a good chance that Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne may also have those clauses in their contracts. Warner will weight the losses they would definitely incur in cancelling the movie (series?) versus the cost of them continuing to “wade on” (just like MacBeth) and maybe, even if they see it as a lost cause, they can managed to stay above going into the red.

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Ah, how interesting it would be to know all those contract details! Do they necessarily involve three more films? Could all be rounded off (as far as first movie versions go) in a less spectacular FB3 with good acting, including a new Grindelwald as different yet enjoyable as Michael Gambon after Richard Harris, and, following the example of Universal’s Trolls World Tour, as a pay-per-view release (perhaps as part of an attractive package that would let viewers catch up on/refresh their memories of FB1 and FB2)? Then on to the novels, which would be available for FB ‘remake’ dramatization down the road…

    Meanwhile, any dramatic plans (beyond audiobook) for The Ickabog?

  8. Nathan Baessi says

    Everyday that goes by I wish more and more we were getting novels from Jo instead. Between the massive cuts to Crimes of Grindelwald, the rewriting of the third movie with Steve Kloves, and all the politicking involved in making blockbuster movies in a toxic environment like Hollywood – I am afraid we will not get her story nowhere close as originally intended in the next few of films. Really hope there is a chance novels are under consideration after the film series wraps up. I want to read her unaltered artistry for Fantastic Beasts!

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Just saw one thing and another making me aware of earlier Warner release details (15 May and 22 October) I had missed and saying (to quote Anthony D’Alessandro) “that Warner Bros. is going with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas Day in theaters and on HBO Max, same day. […] This is by far the biggest blast off of an IP on HBO Max to date, bigger than Warner Bros.’ Witches and Scoob!, which were both intended for theatrical.” Let’s hope they continue this trend with FB3 (in whatever form: preferably as last pre-novel film version!).

  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    And now, IMBD quotes Rebecca Rubin and Matt Donnelly of Variety: ‘In a surprising break from industry standards, Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate — a list of films that includes “The Matrix 4,” Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation of “In the Heights,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Suicide Squad” — will debut both on HBO Max and in theaters on their respective release dates.’

    Come on, WB, round off FB with 3 in some such way, and, dear JKR, let’s have those ‘director’s cut’-and-then-some novels!

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