Friday, July 15, 2011

New Release Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (David Yates, 2011)

It has now been fourteen years since J.K Rowling released Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the debut novel in her now beloved series. I remember receiving the novel for Christmas in 1999, and after becoming immediately hooked, bought the next two novels, which had also been released by then. The film adaptation of The Philosopher’s Stone came in 2001, and few of my cinematic experiences before this time matched the magic of seeing Rowling’s novels adapted for the big screen for the first time. Fans now find themselves ten years, seven films and billions of dollars in merchandising and box office revenue later, having watched these unknown child actors mature into talented young adults over the course of the franchise, facing the grand finale of this record breaking cultural phenomenon.

With Warner Bros. boldly, and some believe unnecessarily, splitting the expansive final adaptation into two parts, fans were forced to wait another six months to watch the finale, following the November 2010 release of Deathly Hallows Part I. Remaining pretty faithful to the novel, which resulted in quite a lengthy idle period in the middle, Part I covered close to two thirds of the novel but felt disappointingly like an incomplete film. Those who have read the novel know that the action packed climax is quite epic in its scope, with key characters and locations from earlier novels returning to support Harry.

Assessing this film as a fan of the novels and the film franchise, and simultaneously with a critical eye, I am happy to declare that David Yates has well and truly succeeded in creating as exciting and powerful finale as fans could have hoped for. Is it without it's flaws? Not quite. Considering the decision to split the film into two in the hope of squeezing in more from the novel, it remains somewhat unfortunate that the depth and presence of a few of the key characters is still surrendered in favour of the spectacle. While some sequences still feel very rushed and it remains as episodic as the earlier films, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a stunning visual achievement that is technically exceptional, chillingly bleak and relentlessly exciting. It is also guilty of being too faithful, if that is possible. Even some die-hard fans haven’t forgiven J.K Rowling for that overly-sentimental Epilogue, which works no better on the screen I'm afraid.

Though the opening shots of Hogwarts, now under the regime of Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and Voldemort's Death Eaters, are spectacular in setting the dark and ominous tone that this film will adopt (especially the distanced shot of the students marching through the gates), the beginning of Harry's narrative is a little sloppy. The events follow immediately from those that concluded Part 1. Harry (Daniel Radciffe) and his close friends Ron Wealsey (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) are sheltering at Shell Cottage with Bill and Fleur, deliberating their next step in finding and destroying Voldemort's three remaining horcruxes. Having buried Dobby, who was killed in the group's escape from Malfoy Manor, Harry turns his attention to their other companions. 

In a pair of awkwardly staged interrogations, Harry asks the Gringott's Golbin, Griphook, to aid them in the necessary infiltration of Bellatrix Lestrange's (Helena Bonham-Carter) bank vault, and questions Mr. Olivander (John Hurt) about Voldemort's capabilities now that he is in possession of the Elder Wand. Due to the bond that Harry and Voldemort share, he quickly becomes wise of Harry's knowledge of the horcruxes and his mission to destroy them. He aims to lure Harry to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by launching an assault against the Order of the Phoenix, who have taken back the school from Voldemort's minions and have set defences around Hogwarts in a desperate attempt to save the Wizarding (and Muggle) World from certain oblivion. Having found one of the Horcruxes in Gringotts and spectacularly escaped on a dragon, the trio return to Hogwarts in search of the final two. Here they join the stand against the forces of evil, as Harry finally learns of his ill-fated destiny with Voldemort. 

The relentless action sequences are well staged and visually astounding, with Hogwarts transformed from the once magical realm into an apocalyptic battleground for the intense (and often violent) confrontations. The labyrinthine hallways, the stairways, the towers and bridges and even the Forbidden Forest are all well utilised. The action is expertly accompanied by Alexander Desplat's inventive score, which incorporates some of John William's classic tones from the early films. Some of the truly outstanding 3D visual effects will literally leave you in awe. There should be recognition at the Oscars, in addition to Desplat and the visual effects team, for Stuart Craig's sensational production design and Eduardo Serra's beautiful cinematography. It's all handled very competently by David Yates, the man directing his fourth straight Potter film, and a man I may have been a little harsh towards following Order of the Phoenix. I have to admire the work that Yates has done at the helm of this franchise, leading it through the darker and more complex novels, even if they have not engaged me quite as effectively as say The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Goblet of Fire did.

This final instalment works as a nostalgic reunion for the who's-who of the British film industry and all of the characters we have come to love over the years. Most notable is the return of Snape, played so coldly by the brilliant Alan Rickman. Snape is such an essential character in the novels, and its great to see him feature in a couple of powerful sequences after being largely ignored in Part 1. The heartfelt flashback to his individual struggle is staggeringly moving. Professors Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith) return for a memorable scene each, while the underrated Matthew Lewis (as Neville Longbottom) is a real surprise. As another really interesting character who is given very little time throughout the whole franchise, it is great to see his story rounded out. Kelly McDonald makes her first appearance in the series, adopting the role of the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower.

Not all of the cast fare so well, with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson surprisingly short-changed with their involvement here. While Daniel Radcliffe has had his problems over the years, you can't fault his dedication to the franchise. He has improved a lot, if you compare his awful early performances with his compelling and believable star turn here. Long have the youngsters been upstaged by their veteran supports (I mean, who can fault Brendan Gleeson's Mad Eye Moody or Jim Broadbent's Horace Slughorn for example) but they have gradually learnt to hold their own. Emma Watson, particularly, was excellent in Part 1. Here, it is the Radliffe and the Ralph Fiennes show, with the latter giving it his all in an outstanding performance as Lord Voldemort, one of the iconic villains of fantasy literature.

This is the part where I have to sum up my thoughts on a Harry Potter film for perhaps the last time (unless I decide to go back and write about the earlier films), and while I hoped I would be left an emotional wreck at the end of this journey, I have to say I didn't quite get there. Perhaps I am a little jaded, having grown out of the wonderment that the books produced, and having to work at a cinema where the release of the new Harry Potter film is the equivalent of hell. Suffice to say, I still enjoyed this immensely.

There is an overwhelming sadness to see Hogwarts reduced to rubble and to see some of our beloved characters die in the battle, but I think the film, though it has heart, doesn't quite pull the right strings. The quite abysmal epilogue, which was completely unnecessary, didn't help. Still, the cinema experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a stellar fantasy epic that has enough action to keep you glued to the screen and enough magic to bring back the nostalgia of the earlier films. Whether it will be just as watchable on Bluray is another matter. Nevertheless, it secures the legacy of the film franchise for generations to come and is a worthy tribute to the pure magic of Rowling's creation. 

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (B)


  1. I keep hearing about the epilogue being horrendous. Maybe I will walk out with 5 minutes to go after all...

  2. When I heard about the 7th film being split into 2. I was really upset because I feel like this generation of young filmgoers are missing something much bigger. I, at least, was able to experience a roadshow screening when I went to see "Che" in 2 parts in the theaters.

    I will see the second part this weekend though I too, am wary about the epiloque. Even when I heard that the younger actors would sport makeup and I'm like "No!". Couldn't they have gotten other actors to play these roles? Someone... famous?

  3. @ Castor - Yeah, it's the worst part of the novel too. You will know where the film should end, though it could have been a little re-worked to ensure the epilogue wasn't required. Stick it out. It's only one scene haha.

    @ Steven - Yeah, the epilogue is pretty average. I was displeased when I first heard that it would be split into two. The first one fluffed around for a while, but I still think, if they combined them, it would have been close to 3 1/2 hours long. There are scenes in this one that still felt rushed, even though it is covering only a third of the book. I think the split was the right decision in the end. A friend of mine even suggested combining 6 and 7.1, which I thought was interesting. This one immediately feels like one cool sequence (Gringotts) and then a lengthy final act. Hey, it's still pretty awesome though. Hope you enjoy it!

  4. free movies online
    I honestly can't see Rickman getting a nomination. Don't get me wrong, he's good… but this is Harry Potter. The third Lord of the Rings got a pass because it's based off a classic piece of literature. And it took three films. Even after seven, the Academy won't allow it to grace the "big" categories.
    Same way there's no chance of Nolan getting a directing nomination next year, even if The Dark Knight Rises is the second coming captured on celluloid and same The Dark Knight couldn't get a Best Picture nom

  5. Matthew Lewis and Maggie Smith kicked ass in this movie! And Alan Rickman was definitely brilliance itself :)
    I actually liked the epilogue, but I'm probably biased from the books. It felt like coming full circle, but that's me :) Glad you enjoyed the film!

  6. That they did. I loved Alan Rickman (sooo good). I didn't like the epilogue in the novel (though I loved the last one). I just think it could have been ended at Hogwarts. Re-writing that final scene to include a moment between Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermoine, so that anyone who hadn't read the novel, would know how they end up! But, I thoroughly enjoyed it :-)

  7. @ Adam Billy - Yeah, I agree about Rickman. He won't be nominated. It should be considered in some of the technical features though. Visual effects, score, sound, cinematography and art direction I would say!

  8. This is a very fair review--neither a rant nor a fanboy paean. I agree completely with the thought that this film doesn't really tug on the right strings. For a non-Potterphile like me, a lot is left too vague for me to become really involved. I can't remember minor characters that well because they've always been given short shrift--the dedicated fans already know all about them, so a lot of their involvement is glossed over. So, while the true fans have more of an emotional attachment to seeing someone dead on the battlefield, I feel nothing, because I don't remember who it is.

    But, these films weren't made for me, so it's hard to fault the film for not catering to me when I'm not the target audience.

  9. Thanks Steve.

    I have always tried to keep these films in perspective. Sure I love the novels, and I have been disappointed a few times (Order of the Phoenix), but overall I think the franchise has been pretty good. This was a fitting finale for all Potter-fans, though when I went to work the other day, my colleagues were surprised that I liked it because they had heard it wasn't good at all. Where did they hear that? RT=96% haha. I completely understand what your saying, and the film's primary weakness is definitely that it lacks that emotional impact. I didn't cry. I was sad to see Hogwarts reduced to rubble, but yeah, it was pretty rushed, and didn't involve me as much as it should have.

    Great work on the LAMBcast the other day. They were good discussions that's for sure. I also wondered the same thing when I saw the trailer for Zookeeper. Why does Kevin James still have a job? Sam had to reason with me too haha.

  10. I still have reservations about this movie but I do think it was a fitting climax to an excellent series. My favourite Harry Potter films are still 3, 4 and 5.

  11. Having now seen it a few weeks ago, it has all but gone from my memory. While it was an enjoyable film in the cinema and I think a fitting finale for Potter fans, it really wasn't that great of a film. Certainly not to the extent of a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes, anyway!