Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

And we all fall down

deathlyWouldn’t you know it; the local movie theatre finally developed an organized and professional way to hold midnight premieres for the Harry Potter films, just in time for the final installment in the series.  I guess they can keep the new and improved process in mind when The Hunger Games and whatever other angsty young-adult books are translated into film next.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is, as the title suggests, the second part of a 5-ish-hour film, and believe me, this one feels like the second half of a film.  Director David Yates, in one of his only wise moves in this film, wisely avoids rehashing Part 1 and wasting time.  We get right into the story, with stubbly young Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) chatting with the folks he rescued in the previous film and attempting to learn the secrets of two sets of MacGuffins: the Deathly Hallows, mystic objects most people do not believe exist, and therefore, in the realm of movie logic, must exist; and the Horcruxes, objects tainted with dark magic by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), which contain pieces of his soul.  The falling action of the Potter series follows Harry’s mission, along with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) hunting for a way to destroy Voldemort, as Voldemort’s forces close in on Hogwarts School and prepare to annihilate its inhabitants.

Performance-wise, the film is solid, and as mentioned in my review of Part 1, seeing so many legendary British actors together in one spot is a treat.  As such, the supporting cast is infinitely more interesting than the main trio, as Harry remains stalwart throughout seven (or in the film’s case, eight) stories and never shirks his Boring Hero act.  Rickman as Severus Snape, Fiennes as Voldemort, and Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall steal much of the show here.  The film also features a nice scene with Kelly MacDonald (of Boardwalk Empire fame) as Helena Ravenclaw, a ghost who possesses secrets about one of the final Horcruxes.

Yates’ use of character is not as strong here as it once was, and on some occasions, we really feel as though we’ve missed something.  Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Tonks (Natalia Tena), Kingsley (George Harris), Bill Weasley (Domhnall Gleeson) and several others are given very limited screen time and not allowed to say much, yet we’re expected to feel sympathy at their deaths (which are mostly unseen), and satisfaction at their killers being brought to justice.  Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), two of Harry’s more interesting schoolmates, are given plenty to do, and to the film’s credit, it’s nice to see virtually every minor cast member from the last four or five films involved in the defense of Hogwarts, even if they’re just standing there.  Nick Moran, Chris Rankin and a few others reprise their roles, but keep silent, as though they’ve been told not to speak lest the studio have to pay them more if they utter a line.

Yates makes several good choices and slightly more bad ones.  Aside from character issues, little of the actual fighting is shown in the much-anticipated Battle of Hogwarts.  We get snippets of unnamed extras fighting and dying as Harry and the gang run past to their next objective, but little to no fighting footage of any supporting cast members (characters with names) is seen.  I do wonder if there were deleted scenes featuring these characters.  As this movie is shorter than the last one, would it have been so bad to keep the footage in?  Additionally, after the already action-heavy opening third of the film ends, the clever and occasionally well-written dialogue of Part 1 gives way to nonstop action and CG.  Many of the scenes feel rushed, and I felt like I was being asked not-so-politely to simply accept character relationships forged five films ago and not worry about “talking” in this one.  Do filmmakers realize that battle scenes are especially boring when we don’t care about the characters who do the battling?

I would also like to ask David Yates why villains must crumble to pieces or melt when they die.  The heroes are seen bloodied and beaten, sometimes torn apart, while the main bad guys vanish into dust or explode into a gemlike blue substance.  This is not what death looks like.  When Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) died in the fourth film, there was impact.  Know why?  Because he is cruelly murdered at point blank range, and his lifeless body flops unceremoniously onto the ground, eyes open and lustrous.  We know who, we know why, and it feels real.  The old Wicked Witch death (i.e. melting, crumbling, vanishing into smoke, or otherwise completely transmogrifying) is not an effective portrayal of death if you’re trying to evoke emotional impact, because the audience cannot equate it with anything from real life.  There is nothing to associate the feeling with.  If you’re a big fan of the books and don’t care about any of this, suffice it to say “it didn’t happen in the book,” and have at it.

The strongest section of the film involves revelations about Snape’s past, and Alan Rickman does not shortchange us with his performance, nor does Yates with the time he devotes to these scenes.  There’s a lot to like in the film, particularly the memories sequence, the wonderfully-done special effects (especially the multiplying treasure in the Gringotts vault), and the appropriate level of climax, given what this story has been building up to.  Perhaps the most enjoyable part of a film like this is seeing it in a crowded theatre with an audience who doesn’t know what’s going to happen.  Reactions are golden.

The film, while not the best in the series and far below the best of art, is an experience worth having, and closes out the series with Seinfeldian flair. It’s time to bid these characters farewell, so if you’re a big fan of the series, fret not.  Your life is not over.  There’s a world of amazing books out there, for which these served as barely a warm-up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; written by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates; starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Ralph Fiennes.

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