Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Grand Finale -- Reflections on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" (2011)

"Oh, Harry, how I do want a nose like yours. Sigh."
I became a Harry Potter fan the moment I opened J.K. Rowling's first novel about the boy wizard. Her style was a joy to behold as she weaved a magic spell over me with every page, detailing a fantasy world where wizards and other magical creatures dwelled in the midst of a devastating conflict that seemed to have real world consequences. With each novel, Potter became more interesting to me, the world more complex and compelling, and the conflict deeper and darker. His final standoff with He Who Must Not Be Named is classic.

The movies, on the other hand, had always been hit-and-miss for me. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone was a decent introduction, but felt clumsy at time. Chamber of Secrets was a mess, which I blame squarely on director Chris Columbus and his dire need to make family friendly films. I felt Prisoner of Azkaban was a phenomenal effort, although it revealed that shortcomings of the films in terms of diving into all the corners of Rowling's world. And the fact that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy did so much with Tolkien's fantasy classic only served to spotlight the Potter film series' weaknesses.

When director David Yates took over with Goblet of Fire, the series began to take off and become something unique. It found its style -- dark, gritty, with just a touch of Spielberg magic (sans Spielberg). The films got longer, giving the writing team more time to play with characters and actually develop them. While the first three films felt like episodes, the last few have felt like a continuing saga, which has made them just as compelling as the source material.

The last installment of the film franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, is easily the best of the franchise. It should be, as it is the epic climax of a story that has been building for five movies. Deathly Hallows is a grand fantasy epic that puts the franchise to bed in a beautiful and sincere way. The characters' arcs are fulfilled, the ending is satisfying, and the Rowling's world is fully realized. Even a couple nitpicks on my part can do nothing to cast a pall on this excellent film.

Basics: Harry Potter and his co-dependent friends, Ron and Hermoine, are still on the hunt for horcruxes, those objects that magically contain pieces of Voldemort's soul. If Harry can destroy them all, he can kill Voldemort. His adventure -- finally -- takes him back to Hogwarts where the good wizards must face off against the bad in a battle royale on Hogwarts. Along the way we get abused dragons, bitchy ghosts, and one of the best flashbacks in movie history.

Characters Rule: One of the pleasant surprises of Deathly Hallows is the way it wraps up stories for a number of supporting characters. Most particularly, I enjoyed the arcs of Neville Longbottom -- who started the series as a clumsy buffoon who seemed to have little to none wizarding skill but ends the story as much a hero as anyone for the sacrifices he makes -- and Professor McGonagall -- who finally gets to show off her magic skill when she casts a massive protective spell over Hogwarts. Other characters also shine, like Luna Lovegood, and even Draco Malfoy, who has always annoyed, but comes across in this film as somewhat tragic.

Voldemort May Be the Best Villain Ever: There is something awful about Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named, that goes beyond simply being bad. Maybe it's his serpentine features, or the fact that he is truly bi-polar. Or maybe it has to do with how wonderful his plan for immortality is. No matter how you shake it, Voldemort is quite memorable, and in this film actor Ralph Fiennes gets the chance to flex his acting muscles. Whether he's violent, brooding, or gloating, he chews the screen and spits it out with gusto. I loved every moment Voldemort was on screen, and imagine my love for his performance will only grow with age.

Nitpicks and Asides: One huge nitpick for me came in the first act, as Harry, Ron and Hermoine try to negotiate their way into Gringott's bank to break into the vault of Bellatrix LeStrange, looking for a horcrux. Hermoine has disguised herself as Bellatrix, and upon appearing before the goblin bankers all she's asked for to prove her identity is her wand. Earlier in the film, Harry showed the wand maker, Ollivander, that he had Bellatrix's wand, yet when at Gringott's the wand is curiously absent. As a result, Ron has to resort to some dumb hijinxs. I was willing to forgive because the following sequence was super cool, but for some reason I can't understand how the writer, director, continuity editors, and all the others involved on the film missed this point. Oh well.

In addition, it was fun to see how the characters turn out after the story is over. Harry looks suspiciously like a middle aged Robin Williams in the film's epilogue, and Ron and Hermoine look ready to go on Jerry Springer. So much fun there. And, thankfully, the filmmakers avoided having characters do a celebratory dance at the end. Some critics may hate 3-D (count me among them), but I have come to deeply loathe the trend in childrens' movies to have characters dance and sing. I sincerely expected to see house elves and goblins singing and dancing over the end credits. Their absence only made me love this film more.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this review. The movie was definitely satisfying in so many ways. I loved the way they wrapped it all up, as you said.

    Had a comment on your nitpick - granted, I know this from the books - the whole point of them asking for Bellatrix's wand was to prove that she wasn't actually Bellatrix and to regain the wand. Bellatrix had warned them that her wand had been taken. that's why they had to resort to the various hijinx to get through.

    Anyhoo... the ending was well done too, though I don't know as I buy them as 19 years older, it would have been far worse to try to get other actors to play their older selves.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!