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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

July 16, 2011
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Okay, it’s the moment it seems half the world has been waiting for: the final culmination of the movie adaptations of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. There will be few surprises as far as plot goes, and I’m sure everybody knows whether they’ll see it or not; if you haven’t seen the preceding films you pretty much can’t hope to follow this one, and if you have then you’re pretty much bound to see it through.

What is surprising about it is that — despite the spectacular marketing — there’s really very little spectacle in it.  In fact, it would be downright anticlimactic if it weren’t for its wonderful emotional depth and impact.  David Yates direction over the last four installments has turned the series from what could have become mere fantasy SFXtravaganzas into rich, character-driven films that are worth watching in their own right.

I won’t waste much time catching up; of course this is part two, so it picks up where the first part leaves off.  Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are still on the hunt for the improbably-pluralized horcruxes, whose destruction will allow them to finally defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).  A daring raid on a bank vault secures another in the series, and a hint that the next is actually secreted back at Hogwarts.

Hogwarts is now run by Headmaster Snape (Alan Rickman), under Voldemort’s direction.  It resembles a fortified castle more than ever, and feels more like a military academy than an elite preparatory school.  It doesn’t take much to convince the students and staff to turn on Snape, and Harry’s presence brings down Voldemort’s wrath in the form of a literal army of death-eaters.

Now, the battle that ensues is pretty stunning — it ranks right up there with the defense of Helm’s Deep — but it’s really where all the action of the movie happens.  There are a few fight scenes elsewhere, but if you’re just looking for big set-pieces you’re going to be disappointed after the first third or so of the movie.  Just go across the hall into Transformers while the rest of us quietly weep for your soul.

As for the rest of the time, it’s largely taken up with calm carefully-paced scenes.  The cast have all the time they need to communicate without feeling like we’re rushing on to the next bit of plot.  That said, there are also huge chunks of raw exposition, which is sometimes essential in the very next scene.  I can’t say whether this is a carryover from the book or not, but at it’s worst it calls to mind the cartoon image of engineers frantically laying a railroad track moments before their own train runs over it.  We’re so close to the end and if we need to introduce completely new elements at the last moment in order to get there, so be it.

Still, if thats the worst that can be said about your film, especially at the culmination of such an epic series, you’re far ahead of the game.  If nothing else it gives plenty of reason for Harry Potter neophytes to go back to the books to see how everything comes up and weaves together smoothly with all the texture that’s been left out.  In fact, this may not have been an accident.

Speaking of texture, cinematographer Eduardo Serra has really outdone himself.  The color palette is richly nuanced while remaining muted and grey, which contributes greatly to the atmosphere.  There is a palpability to even the dimmest scenes that the 3D treatment can only flatten and blot out.  There are a few scenes, though, that are clearly designed for the 3D version, and they don’t look quite so impressive in 2D.  Still, they’re cheap shots with something racing towards the screen to evoke some sort of reaction in a benumbed audience, and they’re beneath the thoughtfulness Yates shows elsewhere.  I sense the hand of the production company in this.

The big remaining question is, of course, “what now?” What does Yates do now that he’s made his popular name off of this franchise?  Much of the core cast had strong careers before — Fiennes and Rickman might well be glad to get back to other material, and they’ll surely land on their feet.  And what of Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint?  Yes, they’ve performed admirably in the last few films, but these are the pretty much the only major roles they’ve played; they’d have to be terrible not to own these characters by now.  Only time will tell if there is a life for these three after Harry Potter.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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