Theatrical Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2
Writers: Steve Kloves (screenplay), J.K. Rowling (novel)
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs
Studio: Warner Bros.
In halving the final book of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, director David Yates and veteran Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves have been given the chance to double the impact of the boy wizard’s final battles. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 mostly delivers on that conceit, but it intermittently grasps at wands, not quite sure where to aim its many spells.
The film will surely play best when preceded by a viewing of PART 1, as this last film takes a while to get its footing, beginning where the first left off without pause. We return to Bill and Fleur’s seaside cottage, as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his closest cohorts (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) attempt to make sense of what has just happened to them at Malfoy Manor. In piecing things together, Harry seeks counsel with other survivors, including goblin Griphook. In a throwaway moment of pleasantry, Harry simply asks Griphook how he is, to which the goblin responds with one word – “alive.” And that small exchange pretty well sums up where we are in the opening of PART 2, having faced so much loss and upheaval, just being alive is a statement.
But despite the fact that living without falling victim to Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort (either by way of actual death or just being indoctrinated into the Death Eaters) is a prize in and of itself, Harry, Ron, and Hermione cannot let up on their quest, even when it again places them in danger. PART 2 quickly sets them up on a Horcrux-finding mission at Gringotts Wizarding Bank, a dangerous plan that, of course, only leads to more danger (and, heck, even more mystery and magic).
Harry, Hermione, and Ron ultimately make a grand return to Hogwarts, only to find that rule under now-Headmaster Snape (Alan Rickman) is worse than even they could have imagined, the halls darkened and without mirth, the students marching in strict military lines, Dumbledore’s Army (“the DA,” a sort of Order of the Phoenix lite made up of Hogwarts kiddos) is now a pack of refugees who cling to each other in hopes that Harry will come back to them. Young Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) has turned into their de facto leader, his insecurity blossoming into a crisp wit and a surprisingly steely determination.
And if the most important relationships in the Harry Potter series were always those between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the most important location was always Hogwarts. At the end of the sixth film, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, Harry and his two best friends made the decision to not return to their school, choosing to search for Horcruxes to destroy and enemies to battle. Their return to Hogwarts is the highlight of the film, striking the balance between joy and pain that has become the overwhelming theme of the last half of the Harry Potter films.
But though this return is, in one word, magical, coming back to Hogwarts comes with a price – the unavoidable final battle(s). The second half of DEATHLY HALLOWS principally revolves around The Battle of Hogwarts, and Yates and Kloves have chosen to condense whole chunks of it in service to showing it through the eyes of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. A stunning scene shows the three attempting to get away from the castle proper, filmed to look as if it’s one giant, epic-scale shot, with the kids running into all sorts of horrific enemies, spells, and flat-out terror, all of it set just to an intimate score. But though Yates conjures up some true magic with this sequence, it ultimately leads into the film’s main misfire.
The Harry Potter series has never shied away from slaying some dear darlings, but in previous installments, those deaths have served as both emotional devastations and key plot-drivers. After all, The Boy Who Lived’s story begins with two such deaths. But the deaths that happen during the Battle (and, be advised, there are no spoilers here for those who have not read the books) are so important and horrible because they are almost totally emotional violations against Harry and the Order of the Phoenix. Though it is in the aftermath of the Battle that Harry decides what he must ultimately do, those who died did not have to do so that Harry would make up his mind – he has already lost so much, these deaths are just nails in an already-sealed coffin. And that is where PART 2 mightily fails – in focusing on Harry, Hermione, and Ron during the Battle, the film does not give proper time, weight, or significance to the death of their comrades. Emotion is sacrificed, respect is not duly paid; there is something missing amidst the great destruction and tremendous losses.
There is also some choppy editing throughout PART 2, jumps between scenes that happen just a moment too soon, odd hitches between sequences that jar. But as the film finds its pacing and focuses on the battles and blood at hand, these touchy technical choices ease off, and there’s magic again. Ultimate truths are revealed and epic fights are waged, but the film never wavers from pointing us in one direction and one direction alone – straight into the final, predestined battle between Harry and Voldemort that will end it all, no matter what the cost.
The final film of the Harry Potter series is showing in both 2D and 3D, with an additional IMAX option. The films have notoriously grown darker as the series has gone on, both in tone and in literal lighting. While there are a handful of sequences in PART 2 that may play interestingly in 3D, the entire series has done just fine for itself without the added gimmick, so it proves to be an overwhelmingly unnecessary element. The magic of Harry and his world has never needed outside amplification, even in this, a finale that is sometimes much quieter than it needs to be.