Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe and company careen through the home stretch of the Harry Potter saga in "Deathly Hallows, Part 2."

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.

What is there left to be said about The Boy Who Lived? I find that in a world where there are books written comparing J.K. Rowling to Aristotle and courses taught on Hogwarts theology at Yale Divinity School, I have little desire to expend much more energy analyzing the Potter franchise. An entire generation has now come of age, weaned on wands and wizards; we know the story, we know the characters. What surprises are there left for us to explore?

When it comes to “Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” the answer is essentially none. Which is not necessarily to detract from the film; the final installment in the beloved series gives us pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from Potter’s on-screen iterations: that is, wondrous art direction, dazzling effects, an extraordinary cast of British legends performing on a level far beyond what their screen time would normally merit, and an encyclopedia of missing details that rabid fans of the book will whine about for weeks.

The timing of the Harry Potter films has been both a blessing and a curse: near-simultaneous releases with the books guaranteed maximum exposure and hype, taking advantage of Rowling’s cultish fan base. But such impatience also ensured that the films will perhaps never exist in the vacuum they deserve. Of course, that’s an inherent peril with any film adaptation ever, but trebly so when it came to the Potter hoards, for whom minutiae is apparently equivalent to depth.

I won’t quibble too much with this assertion, as much of the power behind Rowling’s works indeed derived from the way she so thoroughly imagined Harry Potter’s wizarding world. Like Tolkien, the way the author fleshed out the background made for an all-the-more convincing foreground (unlike Tolkien, Rowling lacked several other crucial literary skills, but let’s not get into that here). But I do feel that many fans of the books continually placed unfair expectations on the amount of said detail that should be translated into the films. With six or seven hundred pages to sift through, someone’s favorite bit player, funny one-liner, or emotional flashback was going to get cut. The sooner everyone embraces this, the sooner we can stop being picky and appreciate the films for everything they did right.

Of course, if there’s anything a proper film critic can do, it’s be picky. Which is why I’ll be skipping the general plot summary here (which I’m sure you all know anyway) and quickly move on to a few specifics that the film gets right and wrong, because I truly can’t think of much else to say here otherwise. What follows here could be regarded as spoilers if you haven’t seen the film; not because it gives away any crucial narrative elements (again, I’m assuming you all know them anyway), but because it might ruin the method with which these narrative elements are employed, which is really where the film series gains its unique charm. Because I’m lazy and tired of the same ol’ format, let’s break things down in unfairly generalized, black-and-white fashion, shall we?

Right:

  • the storm
To understand what I mean here, I’d refer you back to my review of “Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” in which I called that film “the calm before the storm.” After Part 1’s methodical pace, the finale conveys all the frenzy and frantic desperation of the last 24 hours in Harry’s quest, almost (but not quite) to the point of incomprehension. What we have here is basically one action set-piece after another, appropriately conveying the import of this epic showdown between good and evil. I think this film will really benefit when viewed directly after Part 1; trying to see this movie as a stand-alone piece like the first six installments will only result in narrative confusion, when the whole Part 1/Part 2 thing should be taken rather literally.
  • Snape
Everything here involving the slick, secretly troubled former Potions master is spot on. His first glimpses are suitably menacing and brooding; his death is brutal and harrowing; and the sequence of Snape’s memories through the Pensieve is easily the coolest part of the film, visually, an impressionistic montage of flashbacks (many to previous films, which allows the audience a few bittersweet moments of nostalgia) that perfectly captures Snape’s tortured and tortuous history in a matter of minutes. Kudos to Alan Rickman, that master of scene stealing, for giving this film the emotional heart it desperately needed.
  • awesome British actors
It’s basically a cliché to talk about this by now, but how can you not talk about the array of acting veterans that once again churn out brilliant supporting turns? Ralph Fiennes adds an element of doubt and anxiety to Voldemort’s menace this time around, a fretfulness that makes his cruelty all the more fraught and frightening. Maggie Smith summons up equal parts audacity and enthusiasm for a dose of complete bad-assery. Newcomers Kelly Macdonald and Ciarán Hinds lend bit players the Gray Lady and Aberforth Dumbledore a complexity that the film regretfully doesn’t have time to fully explore. And legends like Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent somehow still bother to show up at all, even though all they get on-screen is about 10 seconds of crying. That’s some incredible dedication right there.
Wrong:
  • the epilogue
Holy mackerel, you’ve made something like $7 billion worldwide on this series, Warner Bros., and you couldn’t invest in some motion-capture aging technology? I haven’t seen makeup jobs that bad since some of my older brother’s high school plays.
  • lack of a “hells yeah!!!” moment

The closest thing we get to a single, climactic, feel-good moment is Neville killing Voldemort’s snake; otherwise, the final duel between Harry and Voldemort feels somewhat unsatisfying, as does Harry’s rather perfunctory destruction of the Elder Wand. Let’s be clear, “Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” while certainly entertaining, is no “LOTR: Return of the King.” There’s no charge of the Rohirrim here, no Samwise carrying Frodo. Cool as David Yates’ rather muted depiction of the final battle can be at times, you kind of wish he had picked at least one scene to crank up to 11.

 

  • the epilogue
Seriously, did they even try to do anything to age Emma Watson? At all?
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” brings the saga to a poignant, occasionally awe-inspiring, flawed, impressive finish. In the end, I don’t think you could summarize the Harry Potter franchise any other way.
Now playing in theaters.
Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
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3 Comments

Filed under Reviews

3 responses to “Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

  1. Elaine

    Heh… rabid fans… heh.. nervous chuckle.

    I think they just decided that Emma Watson was best left alone… I thought the work on Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t terrible, but it was really weird seeing him hold that boy like his son…

    I didn’t even realize that was Ciaran Hinds!!!!! And Emma Thompson’s four seconds on screen was the best. And I couldn’t stop laughing at Jim Broadbent every time the camera went his way. 🙂 And I was so glad to get Ollivander back for a bit too. I rewatched HP1 the other day (to prepare for this one), and he’s even better than I remembered.

  2. They slapped a beer gut on Rupert Grint and sideburns on Daniel Radcliffe and called it a day. Considering the amount of effort put into this series as a whole, it seemed lazy. How about some “Benjamin Button”-esque CGI work?

    Anyway, yes, it was great to see John Hurt again. I maintain that he has one of the greatest screen entrances ever in the first movie.

  3. ya burnt, LFHS thespians.

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