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It is finally time to say "Alohamora" to the secrets of David Yates's first #HarryPotter film since 2011. We are heading back to the start to continue the world of #JKRowling with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It may be a magical ride that hones back to the whimsy of the first few Potter films, but we always knew that dark forces were going to play a part in the film. So, how do Yates and Rowling balance evil in a world of Ron Perlman goblins and anthropomorphic pastries?
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them.
On the whole, it is the cast that make Rowling's world come alive. Eddie Redmayne is the awkward tweed-clad hero Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowalski the podgy patissier, while Colin Farrell is the secretive Percival Graves — the Auror with ulterior motives. The cast is rounded off by superb performances by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, but there is someone who doesn't quite cast a spell on proceedings.
Shoehorned in among the mythical beasts is Ezra Miller as the maudlin Credence Barebone, the adolescent slave to the witch-hating New Salem Philanthropic Society. At times, watching Ezra Miller feels like a Cruciatus Curse has been placed on us, so where did things go wrong for Hollywood's red and golden boy?
It hasn't been a great time for Miller recently — what with being criticized for his unnecessary cameo in Suicide Squad, then dropping the ball by refusing to sign a fan's comic — so surely things are only going to get worse with Fantastic Beast reviews? Miller's role as Credence Barebone is both unnerving and unnatural in equal measures. Sporting his bowl cut hairdo, it looks like Miller watched The Omen on repeat to channel Damien Thorn into his part.
It is a close call whether Farrell, Miller, or *spoilers* Johnny Depp has the worst 'do, but couple that with Credence's undertaker suit, and the character zaps any fun from every scene. As an adopted orphan who spends most of the film being whipped with a belt, I know there isn't much for him to be happy about, but in a world of fantastic beasts and magical adventures, Credence is just a little too glum. He is that weird kid who stands in the corner eating glue, and the performance sticks out like a sore thumb.
A New Invention
The trouble presumably comes from the character's source, i.e. he doesn't have one! With the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them novel being written as a charity book for Comic Relief, it was only ever meant to be an encyclopedia of animals. The only part that comes from any form of novel is Redmayne's Newt Scamander. Rowling may have served as the screenwriter on Beasts, but with her villains you get the impression that writing Voldemort took most of her strength.
Then you have the inclusion of the other half of Credence: the dark magic Obscurus. Sure, the novel had a couple of dangerous beasts, but the idea of one serving as the central danger is new to the Potterverse. Some say that it was alluded to in the past, but Fantastic Beasts is when we first hear the name Obscurus.
Giving Miller a new character and a new beast, it all feels a bit forced. They crammed this wholly hell of an evil entity into an otherwise chipper family-fun film, while Miller's role as the darkness grinds against the joyful roles of Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler. However, you have to hand it to Yates and co., Credence's reveal as the Big Bad of the second half was an unexpected one. Could his transformation from misery guts to Obscurus be Miller's redeeming part in the film? Well no, if anything, things only get worse!
A Graves Mistake
More so, Credence feels underdeveloped, with every scene involving Miller having him subservient to either Samantha Morton or Colin Farrell. I get that he is playing a downtrodden cult member, but Miller is lost in the rest of the cast as a talking suit. Just as Voldemort was tied to Quirrell in Sorcerer's Stone, Credence as a dark entity is never really given time to evolve and his few lines get even fewer.
As for the relationship of Barebone and Graves, apart from sounding like a wizarding shop, it was pushing perverse. It was apparently vital to the film (Miller says):
“Their relationship in the film becomes quite disturbing because it has an element of manipulation that is tangible. It’s an interesting dynamic because there is a certain amount of ambiguity about who is good and who is bad and you won’t really know until all the chips have fallen."
However, what comes across is a weird unresolved sexual tension between Farrell and Miller. Longing gazes over steam vents, a tender embrace, the stroke of a cheek. The Graves/Credence relationship borders on grooming, and is more than a little creepy. I am all for some Holmes and Watson flirtation, but it seems out of place in Fantastic Beasts — either the script should have made something more of it, or just abandoned the idea altogether.
Good riddance to dark magic.
Where you might find yourselves wishing Miller off your screens, perhaps the biggest gripe is his end. If you think Credence gets lost as a member of the second Salem group, he spends the entire final act of the film as a whirring blob of sand and sadness. The CGI effects on Obscurus Credence look like they were pulled from 1999's The Mummy.
For those hoping for a redeeming arc where Credence is saved by Newt or Tina, just give up. Poof, and his is literally gone in a puff of smoke. The Potter films were always known for their dark undertone and character dispatches, but the death of Credence seemingly comes from nowhere. The character was undoubtedly crap, but you at least thought he would be separated from the Obscurus and live out his days in the Janus Thickey Ward of St. Mungo's Hospital. Alas, poor Credence, we (thankfully) hardly knew ye.
Run Of The Miller
Annoyingly, Yates has teased that we may not have seen the last of Miller, and that Credence could become part of the four planned sequels too. The little glimmer of Obscurus we see floating off into the distance means that we could get yet more Credence for our sins. Miller teased:
“If you get blown up and one piece of you is left on the sidewalk, I hope that what you say is true, and that that means you survived the explosion for your sake.” [Laughs] “But yeah, I really don’t know the future – I’m not Professor Trelawney!”
Warner Bros. is clearly pushing Ezra Miller as their golden goose, almost too much. His brief appearance in Batman v Superman added some much-needed comedy relief in the film, but there is no need to cram him into all your works. If you look at the actor's IMDb, his six most recent roles are all tied to the fabled studio:
I get that Warner Bros. wants to get as much out of Miller as they can by introducing him to fans before the Justice League solo. It is a shame, because Miller himself is reportedly a huge Potter fan, and even sought the advice of Potter's Emma Watson when he got the role. In anything else he is a great actor, but it seems that Credence is a curse. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, perhaps I'm not. Personally I am waiting for Miller to bowl over his skeptics as Barry Allen a la Tom Holland's Spider-Man. Sadly for Beasts, it was wrong place, wrong time.