Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

The length of the cast alone should tell you just how long this has been coming; after 10 years, the Harry Potter series finally comes to a close with an extended bang.

Mainly because that’s pretty much all it has left. It should come as no surprise that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is not a movie in and of itself. Picking up immediately where Part 1 ends, we find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends holed up on the seashore, planning how to get their hands on the evil Lord Voldemort‘s (Ralph Fiennes) next Horcrux and bring him closer to final defeat. Little do they realize that Voldemort himself has gotten his hands on the Elder Wand, the most powerful weapon in the wizarding world, and may be well nigh unstoppable.

Cue explosions. The final, final, final (this time we mean it!) Harry Potter film is mostly just the last act of the combined Harry Potter finale stretched out to more than an hour. Partly because it still has a hefty amount of exposition still to deal with, in the form of relevant back-story which for some reason hasn’t been filled in yet, but mostly because director David Yates wants to do justice to the final battle between the forces of good and evil.

And do justice he does. Although Deathly Hallows 2 doesn’t lack for action sequences in the early going — opening with our heroic trio breaking into the wizarding bank Gringotts and escaping on the back of a dragon — it’s not until the return to Hogwarts (almost entirely missing from Part 1) that the film kicks into high gear. Someone, somewhere has been keeping a list of all the Harry Potter required fan moments of the entire series, from just the right villain meeting his end to just the right couple getting together, and Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves spend the last nearly 90 minutes of the film paying them off.

Rather than coming off as an empty paean to the fans, though, the filmmakers’ desire to focus on the characters as real people even the midst of pitched battle keeps even the shallowest viewer of the series engaged in what could have easily been just mindless action set pieces and explosions. Every conflict, every battle has real consequences, and you can feel the weight of 10 years’ worth of getting to know who these characters and caring what happens to them.

That said, some are given more time than others, especially Matthew LewisNeville Longbottom, who is finally given the chance to emerge from plucky comic relief to full-blown hero and proves up to the challenge. In general, the young child actors have grown to the point where they can handle these moments, as well, creating a satisfying acting experience which doesn’t suffer the disparity between the adult and child actors the early films often did. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) also continue to get moments to mature into a more complex characters.

But they often are only moments. For all of the tremendous screen time given to Deathly Hallows between its two parts, the focus is entirely on Harry and his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). With the benefit of the first two acts already out of the way, the angst and drama of the film is largely replaced with more esoteric musings on the place of death in our lives and how to face it. Yates’ steady hand and the growing acting abilities of his stars, though still edging towards earnest over deeper emotions, make this more affecting than adventure-film philosophy usually manages.

It also maintains the real world aesthetic begun in Half-Blood Prince, especially in Eduoardo Serra‘s dusk-tinted cinematography. Although with so much of the film set in the halls of Hogwarts Castle, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is less about creating new environments than showcasing the design of previous films. And then blowing them up. The post-production 3D conversion is one of the better recent ones, and coupled with a hefty amount of excellent CGI, it creates a fantastic experience.

The major flaw still remains that like the last few films Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a film for fans more than anyone else. With just a few exceptions, anything beyond the hunt to weaken and kill Voldemort is tacked on without context and can only be completely understood by someone well-versed in the source material.

The choice to stay as close to the source material as possible has been the series’ double-edged sword for its entire history. It gives the filmmakers the stepping stone of a compelling story and characters, but it also takes some of the bad ideas with it and seldom seeks out an identity of its own, so as not to take the risk of alienating anyone. So we end up with several tension breaks for extended exposition in the second half, which should have found a place earlier. Plus a horrible explanation for how Harry will defeat Voldemort, which is given very little setup and gets sillier the more it is explained. They’re not insurmountable problems, but the filmmakers only put token efforts into dealing with them; for better or worse, they are tethered to them and can’t break free.

As problems go, of course, there are worse ones to have. The source material works more often than it doesn’t, and the filmmakers have a good grasp of how to leave it entertaining but restrained.

Even if you’re not a big fan of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 hits just the right notes for a big finale. A mixture of actually characterization, solid storytelling and excellent craftsmanship make it maybe not necessarily a new bar for adventure filmmaking, but a worthy entry and conclusion.

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley; Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort; Alan Rickman as Severus Snape; Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom; Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood; Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy; Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall; David Thewlis as Remus Lupin; Natalia Tena as Nymphadora Tonks; Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange; Ciarán Hinds as Aberforth Dumbledore; Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid; Warwick Davis as Filius Flitwick/Griphook; Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley; Julie Walters as Molly Weasley; Mark Williams as Arthur Weasley; James Phelps as Fred Weasley; Oliver Phelps as George Weasley; John Hurt as Olivander; Kelly Macdonald as Helena Ravenclaw; Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn; George Harris as Kingsley Shacklebolt; Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy; Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy; David Bradley as Argus Filch; Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbldedore; Gary Oldman as Sirius Black; Geraldine Somerville as Lily Potter; Adrian Rawlins as James Potter; Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney; Domhnall Gleeson as Bill Weasley; Clémence Poésy as Fleur Delacour; Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan; Afshan Azad as Padma Patil; Scarlett Byrne as Pansy Parkinson; Josh Herdman as Gregory Goyle; Louis Cordice as Blaise Zabini; Alfie Enoch as Dean Thomas; Katie Leung as Cho Chang.

(Warner Bros. Pictures -- http://www.warnerbros.com/; Heyday Films; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 -- http://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/harrypotterandthedeathlyhallows/)
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, July 16th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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