Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Steve Kloves (Novel: J.K. Rowling)
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter, Kelly Macdonald, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory, Ciaran Hinds, Devon Murray, Maggie Smith, Bonnie Wright, Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones, George Harris, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, David Bradley, Natalia Tena, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman
PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.
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He’s “The Boy Who Lived”. And after the final film of the vaunted franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, he will continue to live well beyond the faded ink and forgotten links of 2011 thanks to a marvelous conclusion to the most successful film franchise in history.
Ten years ago, I could scarcely have imagined I would fall so in love with the boy wizard Harry Potter. Some friends had urged me to go see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone despite my lack of familiarity with the source material. Despite Chris Columbus being given short shrift for his first two features, they cemented in my mind and heart the Harry Potter legacy that brought me to the theater on a balmy Sunday in July.
If you’ve read the books, you know the story to this film down to the coda at the end of the film. J.K. Rowling’s books, which I hadn’t read until after seeing the magical first film, had, up until the final two, been amazing reads. They were tense and entertaining and forced young readers to come to terms with evil and its ramifications when fear is allowed to run amok. The final two books, the last in particular, lacked a lot of the spark, imagination, wit and tension that had categorized the prior novels. Under pressure to deliver the final two narratives ahead of scheduled filming for the last films, may have forged a diminished quality. And while the sixth book and film share a similar lack of strength (the movie more so), the first film of the split seventh book began to turn that around. Although there’s a notable lack of dramatic tension in Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows, it was a strong improvement over the previous film.
Now, we come to the final film of the franchise, a broad, tense and exciting final chapter to a great oeuvre. Steve Kloves needs to be commended first for taking a complex series of books, sloughing off a lot of loose material (some that even I had wished would have made it into the films) and creating a seamless series of films. While the director David Yates’ first entry in the series (Order of the Phoenix) lacked his lighter touch, Kloves crafted that film in every way he could have without writing it with his prior four adaptations. With the final film, he transforms the more dramatic elements of the final book into a magical series of events that bring the audience to its desired conclusion. Blending in the right touches of the prior films brought depth to the film and, even though you have to watch the prior films to grasp many of the events in this last movie, the level of passion, anger, sorrow and exuberance is perfected.
Yates was not a great choice for this franchise. At least that’s how I felt after watching Order of the Phoenix and later Half-Blood Prince. And while I consider those two films as the most inferior of the series, he proved me wrong with the final film. The performances belong to the actors and he doesn’t really elicit anything more than they are willing or able to give, but the end result is magnificent. The film feels more sleek than his previous efforts and the battle for Hogwarts is one of the finest examples of battleground balance, choreography and suspense. I knew who would live and die and how the battle would end, but that didn’t keep me off the edge of my seat. I have a sore neck now from concentrating too heavily on the events on the screen.
This film has the best Visual Effects of any of the prior entries and even surpasses some of the best effects in other films these last few years. There’s seldom a seam that draws your eye away from the action. You feel a sense of spectacle watching the effects in this film and were it not up against some other staggering efforts this year, I would say this one deserves an Oscar for the work. The same goes for the Art Direction and the score. Alexander Desplat, one of our greatest modern composers, may finally earn his first Oscar for Original Score. When his work is on screen, whether simple strains accompanying sadness or soaring melodies accompanying the action, there’s not a frame of the film that isn’t embellished by his work. He weaves in many of the best themes of the series, including John Williams’ iconic “Hedwig’s Theme”, and creates a superior aural experience.
As to the performances in the film, these are the same actors who’ve been creating magic since the first film (and other films as characters were added to the massive cast of recognizable faces). Going back to the first film, it’s impossible not to see how far Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron) have come. They may not have grown much in the last couple of films, but they have the necessary gravity to tell the story right. You cannot now imagine anyone else in these roles, much like Judy Garland will be forever immortalized as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The surrounding young cast including Matthew Lewis (Neville), Evanna Lynch (Luna) and Tom Felton (Draco) have displayed similar improvements across the eight films to date and while they were underutilized, especially Lewis, in this final film, they were certainly not unimportant. The vast selection of noted British thespians who shared their insights, passions and delight in the craft of acting with these youngsters, while delivering memorable performances themselves (oh how much I missed Maggie Smith in Part 1 of Deathly Hallows). It was the perfect ensemble, the perfect embodiment of page-to-screen character development and were they not so special in this and previous efforts, it would not have been the franchise it became.
Many would say that the best franchise to date is still The Lord of the Rings and I would not disagree with them, but for every great film in the Bond, Star Wars and Star Trek franchises that excelled, there were others that did not. For consistency, Harry Potter and his eight films, while varying slightly from chapter to chapter, have maintained a consistent level of quality that is built on and surpassed in this final film.
This is the first and only film in Harry Potter‘s ten year history that I have given a four-star rating to and I feel no compunctions against it. This is the magic of cinema. From the day we see our first movie, whether it’s Disney or Pixar or Oz, movies are imprinted on our lives. When we look to the big screen to show us what potential there is and what new worlds we can explore, it’s a movie like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and its predecessors that show us what can be accomplished. This may not be the greatest fantasy series in history, Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy will likely forever hold that designation, it is undoubtedly one of the most important, creative and impressive efforts conveyed on the big screen. The final film embodies everything that made the franchise great. It takes the audience to new worlds. It asks us to care for the lives of these fiction characters. And it does it all without any reservations.
When you come to the coda of the film and watch the final parting shot as the gorgeous “Hedwig’s Theme” cue swells, it’s hard not to feel a tingle of admiration, a tingle of envy, a tingle of remorse over the end of an era. Ten years is a long time to share your lives with a series of films, and I’m glad that I was able to do so with such an entertaining, enlightening and engaging group of characters. So long, Harry. You are “The Boy Who Lived”, but these films are and forever will be “The Story That Lived”.
July 17, 2011