Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II picks up precisely where the last one left off, leaving nothing but one spectacular payoff after another.
I’ll be the first to confess, I missed the boat on this whole phenomenon.
Call me a Muggle, or just call me an old fart. But I have been told time and again that the considerable pleasures of J.K. Rowling’s seven-part book series escaped me, and thus was left to dread one more-often-than-not lackluster big-screen adaptation after another, arriving like clockwork at the end of nearly every fiscal year. (Find anybody who will tell you these movies are even half as good as the novels they were based upon, and I will give you $1,000.)
So please save the vitriolic emails and hateful comments. We’ve had quite more than enough of those over these past 10 years.
The series began quite ignominiously, suffused in golden-brown hues and tinkly John Williams music, with cutesy-pooh Director Christopher Columbus at the helm. But much as J. Ro’s books deepened over time, so did these pictures, eventually calling upon journeyman British TV Director David Yates to handle the complex mythology, as well as die-hard fans’ insistence that no scene ever get left behind.
Yates also darkened both the pictures’ color palate and thematic heft. So much so that the last two movies, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I felt like grim, monumental exposition dumps. Joyless exercises both, they’re stopgap water-treading, dilly-dallying around backstory and a whole lot of wandering through the woods moping like some sort of fucking Twilight movie, until we can finally get to the payoff.
At long last, it has arrived. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II doesn’t really stand alone as a movie—it just provides bloody, violent catharsis for all that came before.
As if shot out of a cannon, the new picture picks up precisely where the last one ended and amounts to little more than a final battle—one last stand between the fledgling wizards and their evil overlords (led by Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort, who is still conspicuously missing a nose.)
It doesn’t begin well, suffering from the typical J.K. Rowling overplotting and leaving me with the seasick sensation of jumping into the shallow end of a pool that turned out to be bigger than the ocean.
But the crazy movie has momentum, and as Dame Maggie Smith (all these years later, and they finally give her character something to do) takes charge and unites the Hogwarts kids against all those damn pesky encroaching Death-eaters and Dementors, there’s a gimcrack, pop-apocalyptic flavor to the proceedings.
The movie has no shortage of vast, expansive and destroyed vistas, with Hogwarts reduced to rubble amid the kind of majestic fight sequences that summer movies were always supposed to be about. The sheer expansive scope of this fool thing is amazing. Meanwhile, Harry, Ron and Hermoine live up to the Luke, Han and Leia archetypes established all the way back in the first picture. (Rupert Grint’s Ron even does a couple of patented Solo moves.)
Part I took care of all the narrative heavy lifting, and didn’t really go anywhere—leaving this second picture to offer nothing but one spectacular payoff after another.
The 3-D, however, is not worth your time … nor your extra dollars. Yates favors a midnight, almost monochromatic color palate that does not benefit from wearing sunglasses. (I wish I could have seen it in 2-D.) The movie offers little in the way of extra dimensions besides gouging you out of an extra few bucks at the box office, even if those round Potter-shaped 3D shades are neat keepsakes.
Never quite feeling like a movie of its own, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II has its share of actorly pleasures. There’s nobody in movies today who can quite drag his syllables out like Alan Rickman, and Michael Gambon gets some extra mileage out of his long-dead Albus Dumbledore. Fiennes remains a phenomenal embodiment of serpentine evil, and even Helena Bonham Carter’s snaggle-toothed vixen finds a suitable exit cue.
But in the end, we are left with the kids. Daniel Radcliffe’s surprisingly steel-spined Harry, the we-knew-awhile-back she-was-going-to-be-hot-someday Emma Watson and sad-sack Rupert Grint all take their bows at the end.
Judging from the sobs in the audience, this was a seminal moment for a generation to which I do not belong. Again, I missed that window.
This was a story that might not have been particularly well-told on-screen, and honestly never made for great movies. (If you ask me, 2007’s The Order of the Phoenix was the only one that ever came close to transcending the serialized trappings.) But it comes to an end with class, dignity and a fair amount of relief on the part of yours truly.
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
Remembering Roger Ebert