This review contains spoilers
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a film than marks the end of an era, after seven books, and Eight films it was time to say goodbye to the boy wizard (at least until the inevitable remake surfaces), many won’t mourn the franchise’s ending, whilst some fan’s may still be recovering, in any case it Proved 2011’s and the franchise’s biggest hit raking in an Impressive $1.3 billion dollars at the Box Office.
But, burdened by the book’s problems, recurring issues in the franchise and some new, unfortunate mistakes, it is a film that isn’t completely worthy of its success. Adapting the second half of the last book in the series, it is a film that largely depends on at least some knowledge of the Potter franchise as the complicated plot, and multitude of characters can quickly get confusing even for devoted fans.
Despite being the shortest and paciest film of the lot, there is a lot to fit in. Four fragments of Pale-Faced Lord Voldemort’s soul remain hidden in magical objects called ‘Horcruxes’, waiting to be destroyed before the big bad guy himself can be tackled, the mysterious Deathly Hallows -objects which render the user ‘Master of Death’ are waiting to be found and united, Hogwarts is waiting to be liberated from Voldemort’s grip-in suitably epic style, and Ron and Hermione need an opportunity to finally admit their feelings.
In the wrong hands it could have been a confusing mess, but David Yates making his fourth consecutive (and best) Harry Potter film, handles the complication with ease, guiding the ensemble cast through emotional beats, gigantic action scenes, and complicated plotting (as well as displaying an impressive technical eye). He brings the saga to a suitably impressive, if not completely memorable end.
The film opens only minutes after the events of the previous instalment. Following their Narrow Escape from Malfoy Manor Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in hiding, after a cryptic warning from Mr Ollivander (John Hurt) about the Deathly Hallows, they learn from Griphook the Goblin (Warwick Davis) that one of Voldermort’s Horcruxes may be hidden in Gringotts Bank, and with his help they plan a heist to steal it.
It is a somewhat slow start, not quite the epic opening many people may be expecting. Clunky Expository dialogue is prominent in the first few minutes, leading to some uncomfortable conversations between the cast (and probable fidgeting in the audience). Although Warwick Davis and John Hurt as the frail Mr Ollivander, (Returning to the franchise for the first time since the Original Film-2001’s The Philosopher’s Stone) are both terrific, making the most of their limited screen time and largely thankless roles in the narrative.
Apparating in Disguise to Gringotts they nervously enter the cavernous bank. From here onwards the film quickly picks up pace. The trio’s disguises are swiftly uncovered, and an unexpected betrayal hinders their escape route. With a mob of angry Goblins and Death Eaters at their back, there seems to be no escape, luckily a nearby Dragon is at their disposal, a very Impressive Dragon at that. Detailed CGI, expanding on the description in the book, is put to good use as the trio flee Gringotts in explosive style.
Following a series of visions and further adventures, the trio make their long overdue return to Hogwarts castle. Headmaster Snape (Alan Rickman) is dramatically relieved of his duties, and the franchise undergoes another unexpected reworking-siege film, reminiscent of everything from Zulu to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Hogwarts transforms from dusty castle to magical fortress (for this final film some parts of the castle were actually redesigned to accommodate bigger action scenes): a small band of students, teachers, enchanted statues, and random extra’s looking lost all suit up for the titanic battle fast approaching.
Soon battle opens; the two armies exchange curses and hexes in dramatic style- giants and giant spiders assault the castle, wizards and witches fight to the death on the battlements, whilst Harry and Voldermort’s final duel is everything it promised to be and more. The battle is certainly convincing in its scale-hundreds are involved, but its largely down to the effects that it works, the explosions, spells and magical beasties have never been bigger, or better, guided by Yate’s assured direction.
Whilst he doesn’t display the visual energy of Alfonso Cuaron (whose Potter film ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban remains the series highpoint), the film is impressively shot and edited throughout- dramatic pans over the castle and impressive handheld fighting scenes (a far cry from the rather tedious direction of the first film) are accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s excellent score, only the overly enthusiastic lighting department (Yes it’s a dark film, but at points it is a little hard to tell what’s going on), and some unintentionally amusing makeup in the film’s epilogue, let the film down technically.
Despite its apparent metamorphism into a war film, the film never loses site of its characters, or their struggles, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) finally reveals her inner warrior, Neville’s change from a buck toothed nerd to valiant fighter provides some of the film’s best moments (and admittedly, worst speechifying), and despite the film’s dark tone, it still finds time for humour. But it is the quiet moments that truly impress; Professor Snape’s back story when revealed provides arguably the most moving moments of the series, (due in no small part to Rickman’s towering performance), whilst Ron and Hermione’s long awaited first kiss is convincingly and movingly played.
As this film marks the end of an era, many characters from earlier films pop up for cameo’s, it will certainly please fans, although many franchise favourites- Professor Slughorn (Jim Boadbent) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) for instance are given only one or two lines, blink and you’ll miss appearances really. It’s a shame (especially since many of these characters are served by better actors than the leads), but this film is essentially the main trio’s show. Whilst all have certainly improved as actors- Radcliffe in particular is better than ever before, none come close to matching their adult peers, restricted by routine and the clunky script.
The film finds time to introduce two new characters, The Grey Lady (Kelly Mcdonald) and Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciaran Hinds), and whilst neither figures as strongly in the film as they do in the book (particularly Aberforth- viewers unfamiliar with the book may be left scratching their heads at his apparently random appearance in the story…), both are interesting additions to the franchise, and well played by the two actors.
Like all its predecessors this is a film primarily driven by characters and plot, and whilst, admittedly the final battle may detour a little too often, to too many perspectives, these are issues (which originate in the book) necessary to tell the story. Casual Viewers lured by the action heavy trailers will probably still enjoy themselves, but may want to investigate the series a bit further before watching this film.
As with all the films in the franchise, things have been reworked from the book, some are improvements- the rather random way the Horcruxes were destroyed has been made more cinematic, whilst Harry and Voldemort’s final duel is opened up, and mercifully changed from the clichéd over-talky finale in the book. Other changes, whilst not completely relevant to the main plot will be a sore blow to readers and certainly confusing for non-readers, the significance of the Deathly Hallows is never made particularly clear, the relationship between Lupin and Harry is barely explored, and there is absolutely no mention of Gellert Gridenwald, or his history with Professor and Aberforth Dumbledore (A large, and very important subplot in the book).
Whilst regular Potter Scripter Steve Kloves may still not fully understand fans, and the script may still be a little clunky-the dialogue is often as bad as it is good, though in this film it has certainly improved, (clichéd speeches and annoyingly predictable characterisation are also prominent), the film still feels like a suitable climax for the franchise- not an easy thing for something so beloved, and for that reason alone it is worth watching for those it is designed for.
The film is also available in a functional, occasionally impressive, but largely unnecessary 3D version.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is something of a mixed bag, clunky dialogue, and a convoluted story let the film down, but the dynamic action sequences, (generally) strong cast, and the emotional weight of a climax 10 years in the making make it worth a watch. Admittedly it isn’t the masterpiece it could have been and it won’t please diehard fans of the book, but for everyone else who can accept the plot -a stubbly teenager and Bald Pensioner shouting nonsense words at each other whilst wielding sharp sticks-It should be a very entertaining piece of escapism, and an shining example of what the British Film Industry is capable of.
7/10. Paul Ashwell