Posted on 7/17/11 05:51 PM
A decade of imagination and whimsy in the most elaborate and consistently excellent film series in history has come to an end.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the way a series should go out: with epic battles, stirring emotion, and some bittersweet nostalgia. For the purpose of my review, I'll address the film generally and then go into specifics later with spoiler notices.
The movie picks up literally where Part 1 ended, with Voldemort slipping the elder wand from the cold pale grip of Dumbledore's corpse and lifting his prize triumphantly to the sky. The opening sequence that follows the WB logo is quiet and beautiful. Alexandre Desplat's music is haunting, evocative, captivating as we see the silhouette of Severus Snape standing silently in a window at Hogwarts.
The first 15 minutes or so of Deathly Hallows Part 2 feel like leftover scenes from Part 1. Several horcruxes are still unaccounted for. After some necessary exposition, Harry, Ron and Hermione are off again on their quest to find and destroy them.
From then on the movie flexes its muscle as the action-packed finale it is. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves allow the action to slow long enough to give our beloved heroes time to shine and then the plot dives back into breathtaking spectacle. This is a Summer blockbuster that is determined to develop its characters as much as it means to thrill and entertain. There is no excuse for a film shortchanging its audience with endless action at the expense of storytelling or emotion. An audience needs to feel SOMETHING while caught in the midst of CGI chaos. It may be fine sometimes to check your brain at the door, but never your heart.
Since I read the book and knew the story well, the film had a different effect on me than others in my group who were only familiar with the movies. Much of what I thought might be confusing to them was easily processed and understood. The movie does a pretty decent job of explaining enough not to leave the uninitiated completely confused. However, I will say that seeing it with a group of "casual" Harry Potter fans also meant that there were little to no reactions at big character moments. I suppose I should have attended the midnight screenings to experience that kind of audience reaction. But everyone was happy with the film and walked out with smiles on their faces. Was it as epic for them as it was for me? Probably not. But everyone was satisfied.
Now for the spoilers. If you don't know the story or you wish to go in without too many specifics, stop reading here.
DH2 improves upon the book in many respects. Professor McGonagall felt like more of a weighty presence in the film even though Maggie Smith's scenes were brief and economic. The dragon in Gringott's is a sight to behold in IMAX 3D. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape on its back and take to the air, it was a beautiful moment of awe and wonder that gave me goosebumps. I also appreciated that we got to see Ron and Hermione enter the Chamber of Secrets to destroy one of the horcruxes. That scene happens out of sight in the book, which feels like a shortchange to Ron and Hermione as characters. Thankfully, in DH2, their big moment -- the kiss -- is theirs and theirs alone rather than happening in the presence of Harry (as in the book). Snape's death occurs in the boat house rather than the Shrieking Shack, another smart change of location considering we've never actually seen the boathouse except in long shots of Hogwarts. It's a more logical locale given the urgency of the events.
There were moments in the film that made my blood run cold in ways the book didn't. When Voldemort speaks to masses, he does so in a form of mental telepathy that is rather unsettling. And when we catch a glimpse of Greyback, the werewolf Deatheater, feasting on the neck of a dead student, it is quite disturbing to realize it is Lavender Brown, and not some nameless background extra.
Snape's backstory is handled much as it is in the book, with a marvelously heartbreaking performance by Alan Rickman. Some of my group were a little unclear that Snape and Lili had never actually been boyfriend/girlfriend. Their childhood friendship and subsequent teenage estrangement was handled with more clarity and care in Rowling's telling. Speaking of Snape, I also thought Snape's "tears" were a far more effective way of revealing his memories than the way the book had him bleed silver liquid.
Another change from the novel was when Harry prepared to leave Hogwarts to face his destiny with Voldemort. In the book, Harry sneaks away under his cloak of invisibility without telling Ron or Hermione. The film allows him to say goodbye to his friends. It was a powerful heart-wrenching moment that I felt all three characters deserved.
Mrs. Weasley gets her "moment" and her wonderful one-liner while fighting Bellatrix , but it happens so fast you could easily miss it. For a moment built up by so many fans, it just barely happens in the film and wasn't the show stopper I anticipated.
And what about Neville Longbottom? While I certainly enjoyed seeing him come into his own, I didn't quite get the sense that he stole the movie as some critics and fans have suggested. He's a highlight, yes, but no more so than he was portrayed in the novel.
The hallows themselves still do not play a clear role in Harry's resurrection from the dead, but I suppose there are more educated fans than myself who know if that's true.
The epilogue is going to be a divisive element indeed. There are many who hated it in the book and some are calling the scene "laughable" in the movie due to the unconvincing age makeup on the young actors. I strongly disagree. I thought Radcliffe especially looked the part of a 37-year-old parent. Emma Watson not as much, but it's not distracting. Was the epilogue mawkish? Yeah, sort of. But it earned it. Was I moved to tears by it? No. But I think that has more to do with the fact that I didn't literally grow up with these books and films like many younger viewers. I found myself misty eyed more with Snape's death scene and The Prince's tale than anything else.
DH2 benefits as much from its epic scope as DH1 benefitted from its gloomy, quiet angst. While neither of them make a wholly fulfilling movie experience on their own, I'm not sure they will work as one single film either. The tone of each is just so different. Time will tell. Time will be kind to the entire series, in fact. When all is said and done, this is a remarkable film achievement, and the series concludes with a crowd-pleasing climax worthy of the title "classic."
Harry Potter, we will miss you.