Jul 16, 2011

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

It still beats Apparition
The eighth film in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, starts off directly after the events of Part 1. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley go in search of the last Horcruxes, blindly following the orders of Albus Dumbledore, who has been dead for about a year. It's a bit ridiculous to summarize the events of the film, because fans of the book are undoubtedly familiar with most of the plot contained within the movie. And that's part of the fun. Audience members sit in anticipation, wondering, not what will happen, but how the events will play out. How will Molly Weasley's final confrontation with a particular Death Eater play out? How will director David Yates make the magical battles, which have historically been difficult to film, as exciting and epic as they are in the book? When and where will Neville strike? And how on earth is screenwriter Steve Kloves going to make Wandlore interesting?

Snape, Snape-ing it up
The film acts as a long goodbye. Almost every character gets a farewell, whether it's Professor Sprout and Madam Pomfrey staring out at the destroyed Hogwarts, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan fighting Death Eaters with verve, or Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson) saying a quiet goodbye to one of her beloved students. Other characters get
more substantial farewells, in particular Professor McGonagall (played brilliantly as always by the wonderful Maggie Smith) and Severus Snape. Snape, played by with clipped intensity by the phenomenal Alan Rickman, gets a finale worthy of such an amazing character. More nuanced and misunderstood than any character whose name doesn't rhyme with Scary Blotter, Snape is perfection in this final chapter. Rickman gives every movement of his body or his frightened-yet-calculating eyes meaning. When he sneers, we feel it. When he cries, we cry.
The leads, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, are great as well. Radcliffe may still lack intensity, but he finally looks comfortable carrying the film on his back. When Watson lets her eyebrows calm down she really sells Hermione as an extremely logical woman who is nonetheless often out of her element. And Grint, far from his camera mugging and aw-shucks naïveté, gives an actual powerful performance as Ron Weasley. And Grint and Watson actually have some chemistry in this film, which is a welcome change from the other films.

Bellatrix Forever
Thankfully, the film succeeds in most of its endeavors, doing a lot of fan-service (yet not sacrificing the story) to do it. The Grey Lady (The literally luminous Kelly MacDonald) delivers an angry, volatile, and delicate monologue that breaks up the action but doesn't ring a false note.  Molly Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange (Julie Walters and the ever-unhinged Helena Bonham Carter) have an explosive showdown that fans of the series have been waiting years to see. Harry's journey in the Forbidden Forest is as emotional as we always imagined it would be. The battles (both in Hogwarts and in Gringott's) have a tactile quality to them that puts the viewer into the action. And Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood get so many great moments they're impossible to count. Yates has created a world of sadness, a world of destruction, and a world of pain. People die and people fail, and in doing so they show their weaknesses, their humanity. And it's incredibly well-done.
Not my daughter, you...

The film does sometimes falter in its quieter moments. Harry's conversation at King's Cross seems to jolt the movie out of the action. Michael Gambon, always surprising, does give his best performance as Albus Dumbledore. Still, the scene feels off, too disconnected. Of course, that's kind of the point. Similarly, Harry and Draco's (Tom Felton) conversation in the Room of Requirement is effected by awkward pacing, but it's only a small scene. And Felton deserves it.
You don't know LOOOVE....
While not quite as brilliantly paced as Yates' freshman turn in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix or beautifully and artistically filmed as Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the film stands as one of the best in the franchise. Of course, the film feels more like the second part of the previous film than it does a standalone movie. As a movie alone, the pacing is ramped up too quickly, and it's not really a cohesive story. With Part 1, however, it just works. Sure, there is a lot lost in translation, and the greying of Dumbledore's bright white veneer never actually occurs. Still, the whole movie is really all about the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, a battle 10 years in the making. And the fight itself is actually more effective on film than it is in the book. Sure, the action is needlessly broken up into the separate sequences and settings instead of all happening (as Rowling wrote) in the Great Hall, but there is still a mix of danger and fun that works perfectly in the film's final moments. Which, as a fan, is more than you could ever ask for.

Film Grade: A-
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