How Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald Compares To Johnny Depp, According To Critics Who’ve Seen Fantastic Beasts 3

Johnny Depp holds an important place in the Wizarding World, as his portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald established the character as a true villain in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. When Warner Bros. asked the actor to resign from the role amid abuse allegations and ongoing legal battles with his ex-wife Amber Heard, many saw it as a controversial decision and wondered what would happen to the character who was prominently featured in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. It was announced way back in November 2020 that Mads Mikkelsen would take over as Grindelwald for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and now we’re finally getting an idea of what to expect.

Critics screened Fantastic Beasts 3 ahead of its April 15 theatrical release, and while overall reviews of the film were mixed, the critics certainly had opinions on how the Hannibal actor compared to Johnny Depp. So what did they have to say?

Many seemed to like Mads Mikkelsen in the role, with Robbie Cullen of The Telegraph even saying Mikkelsen “should have been cast from the start.” Kirsten Acuna of Insider agrees, saying he is such a natural in the role that it’s easy to forget Johnny Depp was part of the series:

With Depp, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to follow a wizard who comically looked like another bizarre invention out of the actor's menagerie of eccentric characters he's played over the years. In contrast, Mikkelsen plays Grindelwald with a suave, charming charisma that convinces you of why anyone would be seduced by this alluring, handsome wizard and be suckered into fighting a war for him.

Fans of the franchise, who have only had the benefit of seeing Mads Mikkelsen’s Grindelwald in the trailer, expressed concern early on that the actor would merely mimic the performance given by Johnny Depp. Mikkelsen took issue with that sentiment, however, saying that to copy Depp’s character would be “creative suicide.” I don’t think imitation is a concern any longer. Peter Debruge of Variety says Mikkelsen’s character is “more grounded, less cartoonishly menacing.” USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt, meanwhile, calls the new Grindelwald a “deliciously sinister delight”: 

Mikkelsen provides the Voldemort-level evil personality the Beasts movies have been lacking. While Depp’s take – essentially playing Grindelwald as a wild-haired freaky cult leader – was fine, Mikkelsen’s feels more dangerous, as he wields a public charm as crowd-pleasing, manipulative man of the people while hiding his inherent ruthless cruelty.

Undoubtedly there will be fans — whether of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise or of Johnny Depp himself — who prefer the original interpretation of the character. Stephanie Bunbury of Deadline seems to appreciate Mads Mikkelsen’s “malevolent but charismatic” take, but thinks perhaps Johnny Depp’s approach — played “with extravagant menace, so that every word he uttered seemed to come from the bowels of the Earth” — was more appropriate for this particular series:

This is a story where people confront each other with wands and ride dragons. Where’s the scare? Mikkelsen is made to look like a place-holder, rehearsing the lines until a proper monster can be found. It has to be a directorial decision from David Yates (or the ruling cabal of Yates, [J.K.] Rowling and producer David Heyman, who have steered Potter et al from the start), given that we know that with one flick of the whip, monstrous Mads would be out of the starting gate, champing at the bit.

That critic isn’t the only one blaming any negative opinions about the new Grindelwald on the production, rather than the actor. Ethan Anderton of SlashFilm says Mads Mikkelsen’s version of the character might be the most disappointing part of the film, “not because Mikkelsen's performance isn't good, but rather because the script doesn't give him much to do”:

Even the scenes that reveal his villainy are understated and don't make Grindelwald feel all that menacing, no matter how piercing Mikkelsen's gaze can be. Even if that's intentional, it still makes for a disappointing antagonist.

Fans of the Harry Potter franchise have waited a long time for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and will certainly have their own opinions about how the new portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald stacks up against the previous one. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, the movie hits theaters on Friday, April 15. Be sure to also take a look at our 2022 Movie Release Schedule to see what else is coming soon to theaters.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.