Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II

★★★½☆
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

So impressed was I by the first half of the final Harry Potter film that I declared it the best movie of 2010. It differentiated itself from the previous films in the series by being much more low-key and personal, despite the fact that the action at this point is ramping up for the final battles. A lot of the movie involves the three main characters – Harry, Ron, and Hermione – camping out in the woods, trying to figure out where to turn, and growing in fear and confusion. How very much the film diverged from the tone of those which had come prior excited me, and I was hoping that the second half of the finale would maintain that sense of somber complexity. It does not. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II returns to the heart of the war, pitting the good wizards and witches of Hogwarts against the evil Death Eaters led by Lord Voldemort. The movie is all about sending the series off with an epic closing face-off, hurriedly wrapping up the tale’s many threads, and appeasing the fans’ desire to see everything from the books brought to the screen. Because there was so much to accomplish, the film is unfortunately unable to take such a leisurely pace that its immediate predecessor had, though that’s not to say that it doesn’t manage to hit some extraordinary highs regardless.

The film opens with a dynamite exchange between Harry Potter and the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis), each choosing their words and meaning with caution. It’s a staggering performance from Davis, who has appeared in every film of the series but has until now not gotten the chance to shine in such a way. It’s not long until they’re off on the first of what will prove to be many dangerous encounters, a trip to the guarded vaults of the only bank in all of the Wizarding world, in order to continue the search for Horcruxes (pieces of Lord Voldemort’s soul encased in various bric-a-brac). Where Part I seemed, in some people’s eyes, to move at a snail’s pace, Part II hits the ground running and rarely lets up. This tendency does not do the important plot points enough justice, and the escape from Gringotts Bank is a good example of this. The escape plan comes together too quickly, too neatly, so that despite an intriguing concept involving dragons and demolition, the moment does not manage the constricting feeling and exuberant release that could have easily been employed here.

That’s the large problem that the film faces: it does not have a good grasp on how to wind the tension in such a way that the eventual recoil snaps with power. The fated kiss between Ron and Hermione is sudden and slight; the famous line from Molly Weasley to Bellatrix LeStrange (“Not my daughter, bitch!”) feels oddly listless, and hard to see as hugely meaningful given that LeStrange is almost absent from the film (Helena Bonham Carter has literally one line in the movie); Neville’s rise to stardom and momentous involvement in the destruction of Voldemort could have been recast in a much more thrilling manner (fire rages when other characters take down a Horcrux, but Neville’s moment in the spotlight fizzes out as the camera cuts back to the Boy Who Lived). Most of all, there’s the shrugging way that major characters are killed off during the battle sequence. I know that a lot of this comes directly from J.K. Rowling’s book, and some have argued that addressing the deaths of key players as an afterthought is a more realistic way of portraying a war – that is, people die during warfare without fanfare. But this is a fantasy story. Denying the reader/viewer the satisfaction of seeing beloved characters sent off in a caring manner does not feel like a shot of realism so much as it feels like a missed opportunity. As it stands, the bloody battle for Hogwarts rarely captures the danger and dread in the way that it ought to have.

Those complaints noted, there are also many examples of times where the film reaches beyond the pedal-to-the-metal action. Most memorable of these is an extended, stream-of-conscious flashback which reveals the true depths of the character of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Snape has been a central character in the series from the beginning, and this section of the film ties his actions from previous movies – even the Christopher Columbus ones! – together to form a larger picture of the true man behind the dark robes. It is marvelous. An intense moment in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, with Snape threatening violent repercussions for anybody who is hiding their knowledge of the boy wizard’s actions, is a great example of one of the times when the scene builds to a crescendo that does manage to rally the viewer, complete with a touching moment between Professor McGonagall and Potter. We are introduced to Aberforth, brother of the deposed Hogwarts headmaster, for the first time in Part II, yet though he appears in only two scenes there is nonetheless a strong inner struggle and poignant resolution for the character. In just two scenes! And in my very favorite moment of the film, Potter gets some words of wisdom from his mentor during a fever dream. Dumbledore looks at Harry with a soft smile, marvelling, “You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.”

The students of Hogwarts have grown up and into adults over the course of these eight films, the actors themselves have grown over the years so that to go back to the first few Potter movies now is to see a totally different cast. Both the AVClub and I have referred to the series by comparing it to the Seven Up documentary series, wherein a group of children are interviewed on camera every seven years of their lives. You can see the growth of the children in these documentaries, can think about the choices in their lives that have led them down the roads they’ve ended up on. In a similar fashion, Harry Potter and his friends have taken very specific routes in their lives and it’s lovely to see the adults (Dumbledore, McGonagall, etc.) treat Harry not as a child but instead as an equal, as the man that has he already become.

My disappointment in the rushed treatment of the story is great. There are some who aren’t given enough closure, Draco Malfoy for instance; and the finale – just as it did in the book – hinges on a banal and perplexing code of magical rules which feels like an awful stretch to wrap around the plot. My frustration, though, does not discount those moments of ecstatic excellence which manage to surface again and again. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II is hardly the best that the series has had to offer, but it is a closing which maintains the dignity of the franchise to the very end.

It even makes that awful epilogue work, which has got to be some kind of miracle. 

6 Responses to “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part II”

  1. Aubrey says:

    This is my favorite of the Harry Potter series. I have watched it three times. I do agree, even though it is two hours and ten minutes, the movie moves very fast. I was exceptionally surprised with the flashbacks of Snape and I’ve concluded that to be my favorite part. It adds the touching heart warming emotion that is always needed in an action movie. I wish the writers or directors(or whatever) didn’t mention Lupin’s son . If I had not read the books, I would of been like,” He had a son!!” Oh- and it’s Harry’s godchild. I found that important to the story, for some reason. I enjoyed this review, I like seeing other people’s opinions on movies I like.

  2. Chris Meier says:

    “… LeStrange is almost absent from the film.”

    Mostly accurate though Helena Bonham Carter is in a good amount of scenes thanks to Hermione’s disguise at the beginning. I thought it was pretty fun to see Carter in the appearance of Bellatrix play an unsure Hermione – nice opportunity to really use the hired (recently Oscar-nominated) help.

    This was a great conclusion, but I think I’m finally in agreement with you that ‘HP 7.1’ is the best of the 8 films. As much as I want to like ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ the most, there’s no denying its giant flaw toward the beginning. Plus: Am I the only one who sees several easy comparisons to be made between ‘HP 7.1’ and ‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’?

  3. Collin says:

    I’d been looking forward to this review. Really good thoughts on the film. It sounds like I probably enjoyed it a bit more than you did, but I agree with many of your thoughts here. I agree that the film should have given some of these deceased characters a bit more reverent send off or at least given our leading characters a little more on-screen grieving time. I like the fast pace of the film overall, but an additional ten minutes or so to ramp up to some of the bigger emotional cues would have been totally permissible (it’s the FINAL Harry Potter film – fans aren’t quite ready to let go, so help them out a bit).

    And yes, on Ron and Hermione, there was something a bit off about that kiss and really, the romantic relationships in the film general. It would be a massive understatement to say that there was no chemistry between Harry and Ginny.

    However, I really liked the film and on a second viewing I even liked the epilogue. This might sound a bit odd but my favorite moment in the film hands down was when McGonagall and the other professors were rallying together to protect Hogwarts and they’re building the forcefield thing around it. Just seeing all the secondary characters again so invested in protecting the school.

    Alexandre Desplat’s score is also perfect. It’s incredibly thrilling and emotional. I seriously almost teared up on that build up during the statues scene. Also, that Snape montage is breathtaking.

    For me the highs very much outweigh the lows. I did, however, really dislike the scene with Harry and Dumbledore in the heaven-like train station. I haven’t read the book, but I understand that it’s done pretty much the same way there too (?). It’s just really momentum-killing although I too really liked Dumbledore’s line “You brave, brave man.” It was one of only probably two moments in the film that felt like a true misstep, the other being Harry’s re-entrance into Hogwarts after the final battle with Voldemort. Am I missing the significance of the apparent non-reaction that everyone has to the fact that Harry has JUST KILLED THE ULTIMATE EVIL IN THE UNIVERSE? The only way that I could think to totally rationalize it is that the moment is basically from Harry’s point of view and that it’s a reference to the theme earlier of Harry being the cause of many innocent people dying. Voldemort has that line about Harry “allowing” his friends to die. Do they NOT acknowledge him when he comes back in because what we’re seeing is a sort of portrait of these people without suffering in a dream-like sense? As in, Harry is their hero and HIS ideal ending to the battle would be that life would be like it was before any of this happened, with these people not worrying about the threat of evil or lavishing him with praise? If so, I really like it. If that wasn’t the thought though, then I don’t know…

    I really want to see the entire “Deathly Hallows” as one film, because I feel like it would play better. I know it sounds like I’m being really critical of the film, but I really really enjoyed it. I was glad that Yates brought the series full circle by taking us back to the Columbus films and making them fit into the story in a tasteful way. Great acting all around and I think a very worthy ending to the series.

  4. INA says:

    What a great review..I enjoyed the film so much I could not come to terms with finding any fault with it.. After reading your review it was easy to see there was a hurried feel to the ending with a lot of lapses where events could have been clarified. I agree with Collin about there being no chemistry between Harry and Ginny. That scene in the Room of Requirements when Harry saw Ginney left me cold. My favorite scene was Snapes death scene and seeing his tears, his memories and that he could love was awesome.

  5. Nathan says:

    Excellent review. What I probably appreciate most, in reading your reviews, is your ability to be objective.

    As a bandwagon fan that didn’t ever really get in the books, but definitely did the films it is hard for me to sit and completely be objective while viewing the film. This film represents so much investment for me as a viewer, as well as a lot of people, that I can appreciate your dissection of the parts that did not work.

    That being said, I gave into the ride. It was easy for me to accept and did just enough right to help me easily overlook the negatives.

    I agree with most of you in that Ginny brings nothing to the table and their relationship hasn’t been handled well at all in the final films. On the other hand, Ron and Hermonie’s relationship was given time – over films – to develop, but was left feeling kind of rushed.

    I agree with Collin about the scene in which the teachers are preparing for battle. That set up is perfect – especially with the score. That is the only part of the film where I choked up a bit – pre-battle.

    Unfortunately the actual battle itself didn’t quite grasp what I was hoping for. It would have been easy to invest brief scenes showing how the other secondary characters died. That would have maybe made the final battle feel more epic, but instead – because of the scale – never really captured the intensity of what that battle should/could have been.

    I am reminded of the battle at the end of OotP. The scenes in the ministry felt real. I was invested in what was happening – especially when (spoiler, but come on this is final film we are talking about now) Sirius dies and how Harry responds. Very emotional. That was lacking in the final battle. I understand the scales are completely different, but I still feel it could have been done to a similar effect.

    I would also like to see Part I and Part II in one viewing. I think that may change some of the feeling overall.

    Overall, very enjoyable – even if some of it was quickly wrapped up to appease the fan-base, I am okay with that.

    P.S. – I really want to watch the entire “Up” series again.

  6. Miguel says:

    Nice review. Just finished watching the film and loved it.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comment on Warwick Davis’ performance in the beginning of the film–fine, fine work. Very enjoyable.

    I never read the books and I would say my favorites of the movies were 3, 5, and 7.2 (and to a lesser extent, 6). I am among those who felt 7.1 was a bit slow I guess.

    Having never read the books, I was satisfied with the way many of the events and reveals unfolded in the film. The events with Draco and his parents, and with Longbottom, for instance.

    I agree about the lack of chemistry betwixt love interests in this film but Hermione and Ralph were okay because I’m already invested in them being a good couple from previous films. Sorry, Winny, you don’t convince.

    I wondered if the scene in “heaven” would work at first (something like “Oh no” crossed my mind) but then I found it intriguing. Valdemort (or a part of him, but I prefer to think of it as all of him) as a poor little bloody child was fascinating, and quite sci-fi. And the exchange that I enjoyed most in that scene was, Harry: “Is this all real? Or is it just happening inside my head?” Dumbledore: “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry! Why should that mean that it’s not real?”

    Finally, the allusions to British culture and history in the films continue to fascinate me (in addition to the obvious accents, tea, trams, and such, I mean). Longbottom to me represents a sort of British Everyman, a common man who is indomitable and humble at the same time; “good people” as they say. And Hogwarts itself and its travails seem very similar to those of the UK in World War II. Interesting that Valdemort and cohorts begin their assault on Hogwarts from afar, via “missles/bombs”.

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