Film Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’

The story picks up where Part I left off. If you really need to know, you can always rewatch the last movie (Heaven help you), but I’m a casual fan and had no trouble jumping right in. Harry and co are holed up in the Weasley family safehouse with Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt) and one of the goblin bankers of the Wizard World’s enormous vault Gringott’s. The group needs him to break into the vault and destroy a chalice that holds part of the soul of Lord Voldemort (or “Horcruxes” for the Potter fans)—and break in (and escape) they do. I’m pretty sure the entire sequence is the most accurate movie representation of the US’s financial collapse we’re likely to see.

From there they travel back to the wizarding school Hogwarts to destroy another Horcrux and oust Snape as the acting Headmaster. At the same time, Voldemort’s army (why was the wizarding world so scared of him before? It appears the whole of them were his allies?) prepares to march on Hogwarts while Harry scrambles to finish up the tasks that will ensure Voldemort’s total destruction. I won’t dwell on recapping because 1) it’s not particularly necessary and 2) anyone reading this will likely already know, so we may as well just get right into the review.

For all the complaints that were and could be (justifiably) leveled against Part I, Part II is a rather wonderful return to form, evoking the grandeur of the previous Potter films but furthering it with higher stakes and a more serious tone. Many have lauded the later Potter films for their “darkness,” and while I didn’t quite agree with them then, the credit is now well deserved.

The plot follows the same “retrieve object A to retrieve object B to retrieve object C” format as the previous film, but this time each goal is complemented by more action and less plotting, as well as the inevitable payoff that Part I, by nature, lacked. The difference between the two is night and day. Whereas I couldn’t wait for Part I to end, the nearly two-hour running time of Part II flew by.

Director David Yates still delivers a massive amount of exposition, but here he keeps the storylines straight and easy to follow, at least comparatively. Much of the explanation for Harry’s quest was left to the last film, and while I was worried that the interim between the two was going to leave me lost as to where everyone is and why they’re there, a few sentences are all that’s needed to bring anyone who hasn’t seen Part I since it came out up to speed.

Likewise, it may suffer from not being a self-contained piece (unless you have read the book or followed the series up to this point, don’t even try), one of the many strengths of the earlier films (and, admittedly, a criticism that could easily be applied to the Star Wars movies), but on the other hand benefits from all the lore that’s preceded it. The sense of wonder at Rowling’s world shared among both the characters and the audience is now familiar ground, and, just as the child matures into adulthood, the special effects are no longer clever novelties but fit the action and setting. Yes, they’re impressive, but they’re not self-indulgent exercises; here they serve the film rather than distract and, further still, convey an epic sense of scale reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Finally, Yates carries over the same drab blue palette that at last achieves the sense of dour helplessness (as well as sadness for both the characters and, likely, the saga’s end) he presumably intended in the first place. Initially it simply added to the tedium, but with more action, less confusion, and a bit of depth, it now works. Again, night and day.

The only major criticism is that the camaraderie among Harry, Ron, and Hermione, in addition to their friends and allies, is noticeably absent. The strength of their friendship and love for each other is at the core of the franchise, and, indeed, the heart of Rowling’s series. But, save for an excellent exchange between Ron and Hermione where he casually mentions that Harry talks in his sleep and she sees straight through him, the, pardon the use, magic of their dynamic is missed; this is Harry’s movie, and Ron and Hermione are relegated to the sidelines. Even their kiss (and I need not mention the romance between Harry and Ginny, or even Neville and Luna) feels dropped in out of necessity.

It is a large flaw, but that’s not to say Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II lacks an emotional impact or even feels rushed. Much care was put into it, and it’s a very satisfying conclusion for rabid fans and casual admirers alike. I could go on about what I would have liked more (and it seems to me that Rickman is just going through the motions at this point), but overall I was surprised and appreciative. The summer’s been rife with franchises, and Deathly Hallows Part II is among the best.

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