Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
As you’re all aware, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 2 was released in theaters about a week ago. I guess I’ll throw up some spoiler warnings, even though I feel the statute of limitations has expired on anything Harry Potter, not to mention the fact that this is the second half of Deathly Hallows, meaning it was entirely possible to see 6.5 movies and still read all the books before watching the final installment. But just in case, spoilers for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 follow.
Harry Potter films work on two levels: as an adaptation of the book and as a quality film in its own right. Unlike most Harry Potter fans, I generally prioritize the latter over the former, as I feel that a lockstep approach just makes a movie a waste of time and money (i.e., Watchmen). Fortunately for everyone involved, the two categories usually go together, and HP7pt2 is no exception. It’s both a relatively faithful translation of the novel and a satisfying end to the film series. David Yates knows what he’s doing, and he adds his own feel and mood to the story without overpowering it, which has been a problem before (I’m looking at you, Alfonso Cuarón).
The film opens right where part one left off, without even a quick recap. Harry, Ron, and Hermione set off to the first set piece, a break-in at Gringotts Bank involving disguising Hermoine as villainess Bellatrix Lestrange. I really thought I didn’t like Helena Bonham-Carter. While she was great in Fight Club, that was a long time ago, and the intervening years have been filled with scenery-chewing, self-indulgent performances in everything Tim Burton does, as well as previous HP films. Then I saw The King’s Speech. There, and in the scenes here as Hermione-as-Bellatrix, she’s a deep, talented, subtle actress who does a great job. Helena Bonham-Carter is great when she’s in a role that keeps her on a leash. Otherwise, she’s an obnoxious ham I’d rather not watch.
After pulling their heist, our heroes head off to the town of Hogsmeade, where they meet Aberforth, the late Dumbledore’s estranged brother. Ciarán Hinds is fantastic as the gruff forgotten son of the wizarding world, and the film wisely sidesteps what would’ve been 30 minutes of interesting but ultimately unimportant back story about Dumbledore. They almost turn to the camera and say “To find out more, read the book,” before opening a secret passageway and introducing…
Neville Longbottom, far and away the standout character in this film. The makers of this film have finally let actor Matthew Lewis shed the false-teeth and oversized shoes, and with them any trace of self-doubt and awkwardness. Neville is the Enjolras of the Hogwarts students, a born leader despite his lack of “Chosen One” prophecy crap. Every scene he’s in shows how he’s grown into a competent, skilled wizard and leader others can count on (and take for granted). The film also makes a vast improvement over the book (yeah, I went there) by pairing him with Luna Lovegood, another quirky, talented second-stringer. They should make another eight movies detailing the adventures and pitfalls of that relationship.
The rest of the film is primarily an extended battle sequence, with some downtime for revelations and character moments. It’s all well-handled, especially the flashback sequence detailing Snape’s back story and allegiances. Alan Rickman sells Snape’s pain and pathos expertly, as we’ve come to expect from him. Harry’s interaction with Hermione and Ron just prior to his duel with Voldemort is also surprisingly subtle and resonant; I kept expecting someone to ask what was going on, so Harry could reply “Oh, I’m a Horcrux you see,” and repeat the plot points back to the audience the way the films have a habit of doing.
Voldemort strides around in the background of the film, plotting and scheming. He has a nice moment of villainy in which he murders a henchman for asking if he’s alright. But Voldemort as a character has always lacked depth, and he’s always been defined by being “the bad guy who wants to kill Harry.” This is especially evident in the scenes after Harry’s supposed death, where he laughs and capers about. While it’s hilarious to see him give an awkward and wholly unconvincing hug to Draco Malfoy, his menace is gone. Without Harry to define him, he’s rudderless, and his victory scene comes off as lame.
But of course, Harry was just faking it!! Another huge battle ensues, with fewer casualties for the good guys. I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m really uncomfortable with the fact that Mrs. Weasley straight up murders Bellatrix Lestrange. Not because she didn’t have it coming, but because Mrs. Weasley has always been depicted as “your cool aunt” or “your best friend’s mom who always invites you to stay for dinner,” and the idea that that character has blood on her hands doesn’t sit well with me. I didn’t like it in the book, and the weird, creepy effects and satisfied smirk in the movie don’t help matters any. Anyway, the fighting continues, including Voldemort’s robe attempting to strangle Harry, and Harry launching a badass quip and pulling Voldy off a cliff. A lot of people had issues with the way their final fight went in the movie, but since the duel in the book amounts to “two guys say some stuff, then one of them drops dead,” I’m totally cool with them making it interesting to watch.
(As a side note, I’d love to see Harry Potter stories done as Spaghetti Westerns. That would totally capture the fact that the duels as described in to book are basically gunfights, and make Voldemort’s mustache twirling, tying women to railroad tracks style of villainy a little more fitting. But I digress.)
The good guys win, and the core three share a nice little scene which highlights how well Daniel Ratcliffe and Emma Watson have developed as actors (Rupert Grint… not so much). Then we flash forward 19 years, and this is where HP7pt2 falls down a little bit. I’m a little split on the epilogue to begin with, because while it’s nice to see that no one else got murdered, it is a little sappy, and a race to see how many dead guys she can use as namesakes. The film version cuts out a few of the really good lines (Harry’s kid: “Why is everyone staring?” Ron: “Oh, it’s me. I’m very famous.”) and saddles everyone with truly awful age makeup. It looks like a high school play, with Malfoy sporting a comb over and Ron a Butterbeergut as though to say “Look! They’re parents and stuff!!” My brother made an observation I’m inclined to agree with, that if they were going to cut out a lot of the namedropping that provided the backbone, they should’ve just had the score and no dialogue. It’s an embarrassing scene, which is too bad, because it slightly sours an otherwise great film.
All in all, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows part 2 is a wonderful film. It’s not perfect, but it’s a satisfying end to a story a lot of people grew up with. Although most people aren’t going to decide whether or not to see it based on reviews, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.
RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)