– Summary –
Director : David Yates
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Ciarán Hinds, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Kelly MacDonald, Tim Felton, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis.
Approx Running Time : 130 Minutes
Synopsis: The final confrontation between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort begins, with Hogwarts setting the scene for the ultimate showdown. Will Harry survive? Will Ron and Hermione finally get it on? Will Voldemort grow a nose? All these questions and even ones you want answered will be sorted out in the film.
What we think : Resounding conclusion to the Potter franchise, featuring nearly the entire cast list from every film before it. Characters die, character step up to bat, and Voldemort finally gets what’s coming to him. Yes, the end is here, and it looks glorious. Whether it’s a great final film, however, will be determined by your acceptance of some of the shortcomings the film inherits from its predecessor – there’s very little character development outside of Harry’s relationship with the Dark Lord, and the sheer scale of the destruction and death becomes somewhat numbing after a while; props to Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall, who brings her battle face to this film, and also to Alan Rickman, turning in the most moving performance of the entire franchise in his finale as Severus Snape. HP7.2 is a crowd-pleaser, that’s for sure, but I hesitate to use the term “great” to describe it.
Okay, so you’ve sat through hours of Harry Potter films during the past decade or so, perhaps even read the books, and perhaps even own them all on disc to re-watch whenever the mood takes you. After all your emotional investment in Harry Potter, in his quest to defeat the evil Voldemort, you want there to be a big, unholy smackdown between the two in which buildings topple and continents shudder, right? This finale, this conflict, has been brewing ever since Voldemort’s horrifyingly CGI’d face appeared on the back end of Ian Hart’s head in The Philosopher’s Stone. Sorry US readers, I’m sticking with the original, gentrified title of Rowling’s original novel. And in ten years, we’ve had time to get ready for the most anticipated closing cinema brawl since Yoda-vs-The Emperor. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2, in which the final fate of both Potter, Voldemort, and the rest of the Wizarding world is revealed, sweeps across the screen with the magical dervish of all the cinematic magic Hollywood can muster. And boy, when Hollywood wants to, it can really pull out all the stops. But is the finale a fitting one? Is it worthy of all this buildup, all the secretive machinations of the characters, all the pulling and tugging of wands and broomsticks we’ve had since those damned letters arrived at Privet Drive?
Harry, Ron and Hermione are still hunting down Voldemort’s horcruxes, talismans in which the dark lord has hidden fragments of his soul, and the destruction of which severely weakens him. With his army gathered, Voldemort launches an assault on Hogwarts, seeking to defeat all his enemies, and claim the titular deathly hallows for himself, in order for his power to be absolute. Sneaking into Hogwarts, Harry and his pals gather their own army to fight back, and alongside many of the staff, and members of the Order Of The Phoenix, bring the conflict with Voldemort to its long awaited conclusion.
The tag line all along has been “it all ends”, and truly, with Deathly Hallows Part 2, it does. Harry Potter, in all his glory, goes out with several waves of his mighty wand. Which could be somewhat Freudian, I guess. I was hoping for some kind of jaw dropping spectacle as the finale to this series played out, and I guess I got it in parts, but the finale film felt… rushed. Sure, they split the story up into two films, but the films effort to tie up any loose ends with the various characters, both major and minor, kinda felt a little had-to instead of want-to. The film clocks in at 130 minutes including credits, which means the actual meat of the film runs for just shy of two hours – and there’s no “last time, on Harry Potter” flashback at the start either, you’re just straight into it. Two hours of film time is quite short in relation to a Harry Potter film; The Philosopher’s Stone ran for nearly three hours, and although most critics felt this was too long, that film managed to maintain the magical innocence of JK Rowling’s novel and tell its story organically at the same time, without feeling like a book-to-screen transcription. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was the brief pause before the battle (or, as Gandalf once said: “the deep breath before the plunge…”, perhaps one of the great lines in all of cinema) and as I mentioned in my review of that film, gave us a chance to get to know the three principals more than ever (which, after 6 films previously smacks of irony) – Part 1 was lengthy due to the increasing focus on the characters as opposed to the visual effects, a problem I think the films had struggled with since at least Goblet Of Fire. Balancing the enormous cast of characters with the intricacies of Harry’s arc within it all is a truly delicate job, and as the series has progressed I think each director has brought something new to the franchise, for good or bad. David Yates, who directed Order Of The Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and both Deathly Hallows entries, has delivered increasingly darker films as he’s gone along, reflecting the natural progression of our trio of wizards from children into adults, and from innocence into… well, whatever the opposite of innocence is. And the difference between this film and, say, the first one, is profound.
I mentioned that the film feels a little rushed. Whereas the first Deathly Hallows installment was content to spend some time developing the characters and prepping the story for the onslaught to come, here Yates rips through the onslaught seemingly without pause. The opening twenty minutes is similarly paced to the previous film, with some pauses and moments of character building taking place, before the battle over Hogwarts kicks into gear and all hell breaks loose. But the battle, including the final face-off between Voldy and Harry, isn’t as fist-in-the-air cool as I’d have liked. There’s some sort of Neo-in-limbo styled Heaven sequence with Harry and Dumbledore in the middle there too, which doesn’t seem to suit the magical nature of this series – in what wizarding world does Heaven, or a Wizard’s impression of Heaven, exist in Harry Potter, when for Wizards death itself seems to include the ability to waft about like a deceased Jedi ghost haunting our heroes and prodding them into action when they falter? Harry’s inevitable fight with Voldemort, set in the ruined courtyard of Hogwarts, seems to be over in a jiffy, and lacks the required oomph such a brawl should engender. They show up, Voldemort poonces about like a wanker for a bit and scabs a few funny lines here and there, and then he and Harry have a brief wand fight (yep, Freud would have a field day with this stuff) before the victor is revealed and the loser floats away like so much ash. And there’s no sense of cinema to it, no last-gasp, sweaty-brow, clock-stopping, white-knuckle tension. Yates just gives us a few moments of conflict and then it’s all over. Meh.
A somewhat breezy sense of pacing aside, the films faults are only relatively minor, however, and most of my griping about the Potter films has remained pretty constant through the journey. Deathly Hallows Part 2 remains an enjoyable, climactically anticlimactic magic romp through the disintegrating halls of Hogwarts as everything comes to an end. The mixture of visual effects and practical sets is seamless, and each actor inhabits their role so completely, you forget they’re just acting and actually believe they’re the real thing. It’s perhaps less to do with Steve Kloves’s script and more to do with the fact that these people have been playing the same roles for a decade, so they ought to know their characters by now. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are again solid as the main trio, with Grint the most natural of the bunch as Ron. They are outshone, however, by their all-star backup cast, including the terrific Ralph Feinnes as Voldemort, snarling his way through the finale like he could actually win, and a more restrained Helena Bonham Carter as the execrable Bellatrix LeStrange. Michael Gambon makes a welcome (if short-lived) return as a breathing, walking Dumbledore, while Warwick Davis has his best screen role as Griphook, the double-crossing dwarf who leads Harry and Co to the next horcrux at the start of the film. I mentioned in my opening preamble that a tip of the hat should go to both Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman, the latter of whom delivers a truly moving performance as Snape – his character’s end and justification is perhaps the most powerful performance of any in the entire franchise; had this kind of thing been prevalent in the earlier films, this finale might have been even more moving. Maggie Smith delivers the awesome as McGonagall, after missing out on doing anything of value in the last few films, and even the usually low key Julie Walters adds some fire to her character in a showdown with Bellatrix.
The majority of the action occurs in and around Hogwarts, and as you’d expect from two armies of Wizards and Warlocks going at it, the school is reduced to a smouldering pile of rubble by the end credits. It’s sad to see such a major piece of the Potter mythos treated this way, but the impact of seeing the hallowed halls of the school usurped by the Dark Lord, and then reduced to lumps of rock by his armies, indicates that in this one, all bets are off. Indeed – major characters die here, and while I was annoyed that Yates followed Part 1’s principle of having many of them perish off-screen, at least this time we saw the outcome instead of just being told about it. If only Mad Eye Moody had made it to this film, he might have been given the appropriate screen send-off. Oh well. The fact that it’s open slather on any and all our major heroes adds to the tension for the viewer. Who will die and who will live? The wife and I, neither of us having read any of the Harry Potter novels, were debating if they’d kill of Harry, Ron or Hermione in some sort of heroic act of noble sacrifice, and if so, who that might be. I had a theory that either Ron or Hermione would take a bullet for Harry, and if it came to it, I’d guess they’d have gone with Hermione since she’s the more intelligent one of the bunch and it would be a more interesting character twists for her – hell man, perhaps I should have read the books. I still say that of all three, Hermione would be the one who would die to protect somebody else, if it came to it. You couldn’t kill Harry, really, because he’s the title character, and Ron would just lie there and crack a joke or whinge about it all, so Hermione would be the natural choice.
I’d hesitate to embellish Deathly Hallows Part 2 with the moniker of a “great film”, because there’s enough problems with it all that it’s just not one. It’s a solid escapist entertainment in the most grand, money-can’t-buy tradition, sure, but the focus on the action at the expense of audience involvement with the characters as people, robs the finale of the emotional impact it deserves. No doubt this will be a subjective thing, but I tend to feel that you shouldn’t have to rely on the emotions from previous films to enjoy this one – although the Potter franchise has never made any attempt to eschew this cinematic ethos. The bluster of the finale, the frenetic character interplay and gargantuan set-pieces, all become something of a blur at times, with a variety of characters from all the previous films making appearances both large and small. You have to wonder what the acting fraternity in England is going to do now that this series is all wrapped up!
Yates seems to be trying to make an action film here, with slick editing and Paul Greengrass style of camerawork often mitigating the magnificent sets and visual effects he has at his disposal: a sequence involving a massive inferno inside the Room Of Requirement (last seen in Order Of The Phoenix, I think!) is a mess of yellow and brown flame and cinders, all sense of place and style lost in the dizzying camerawork. I’ll give Yates kudos for daring to make this film as dark visually as it was: his use of shadows, blacks and underlit hues was an interesting visual aesthetic, to say the least. Entire sequences early in the piece are barely lit at all, with our characters often descending into shadow for minutes at a time: perhaps a visual hint at the darkness to come. This film is definitely going to blow you away on BluRay, that’s for sure. I think Yates genuinely captured the desperate tones of the Potter finale with his use of color (or lack thereof) and styles, the hand-held camera he employed with Part 1 returning once more as things start fraying around the edges for our heroes. It’s a unique choice for Potter, I think, especially in light of the more traditionally slick styles the first three or four films employed.
It would be remiss of me as a critic to not mention the coda to Part 2, in which a short scene takes place “19 Years Later” after the events at Hogwarts laid waste to everything. I assume it’s straight out of the novel, otherwise they’d never have included it, but the wrap-up of this film – and the franchise as a whole – didn’t deserve it. My wife thought it was stupid, and I have to say, I agree with her sentiments (even if I’d not have used the term “stupid”). The coda, which will probably become a much discussed scene in years to come, is pointless in light of the emotional journey we’ve just traveled. It’s a hokey piece of storytelling, cinema-wise, and feels like something the entire franchise could have done without. I imagine the die-hards would disagree with me, but it all felt a little too “Happily Ever After” for my liking – especially in light of what we’ve just seen.
If I was an out-and-out killjoy I’d go on rubbishing the film for ages, because there’s plenty to pick apart with it, but considering its lineage, and the suspension of disbelief we’ve enjoyed for the last seven films, I think the saga has wrapped up with a decidedly big bang – and who am I to rain on Harry’s parade? Deathly Hallows Part 2 is an effective effects extravaganza, a fitting (if short) finale to the confrontation we’ve waited a decade for, and a resounding success for all involved. Having now wrapped up seeing all the Potter product on the big screen, I’ll still stand by a previous statement I made in calling The Prisoner Of Azkaban the best of the franchise, but Deathly Hallows is right up there next to it, knocking on the door. Fans of the franchise won’t care what a grumpy film critic like me might say about it, and honestly, to start criticizing it all now is a little too late, so I’m just gonna say it’s “okay” and move along to the next big film franchise.
Check out what others are saying about The Deathly Hallows Part 2:
Al K Hall says: “See it only if you saw Part 1, because that means you saw all the rest of them as well.”
Rory Dean says: “The one thing that is certain of fans of Potter that many are in a love-hate relationship with the final installment; excited and saddened at the same time as the boy wizard becomes a man and everything moves fast toward screening to a close. “
Tom Clift says: “It is intense, it is faithful, and it will leave them wanting to revisit the series – books and films – again and again and again.”
Sam Fragoso Makes This Assertion: “Should films always stick to its source material, even when revered by many? In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’s case, I say most definitely not.”
Dan at Top 10 Films says: “…I suppose the biggest compliment I can pay the film is that when it was all over I was ready to jump back on the ship and do it over again.”
Jamiewrites makes his own assessment: “…It’s been fun – while I had my problems with the films… there’ve been plenty of positives as well.”