July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

FANTASY:

United Kingdom/United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-07-15

Running Length:

2:10

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Evanna Lynch, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton

Director:

David Yates

Screenplay:

Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling

Cinematography:

Eduardo Serra

Music:

Alexandre Desplat

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Seen in the Real3D format.

After ten years and eight movies, the cinematic adventures of Harry Potter have come to a conclusion. Parties will be held, tears will be shed, and Warner Brothers will rejoice that a franchise like this keeps giving long after the production costs have been absorbed. Future viewers may lose the anticipation of waiting months (or years) for the next installment but will gain the pleasure of being able to watch the entire story in one long chunk (a nineteen-and-one-half hour chunk, to be precise). The final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, bifurcated in order to avoid eliding readers' favorite scenes, brings the teen wizard's epic saga to a suitable end. If Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was frustrating in its incompleteness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 redeems the first part's meandering and wraps up the series in a manner that will engage fans and non-fans alike. Four hours and 37 minutes is too long for The Deathly Hallows as a whole, especially as it is constructed, but two hours and ten minutes is the perfect length for Part 2.

Part 2 picks up where Part 1 ended and continues to follow the efforts of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) to locate the horcruxes that will make his arch-enemy, the dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), vulnerable. Meanwhile, Voldemort, having uncovered the "one wand to rule them all," is on the move, seeking Harry in earnest while using his army of death-eaters and other creatures to strike out at Hogwarts, where his minion Snape (Alan Rickman), has been deposed as headmaster.

Roughly the first half of Part 2 continues the less-than-enthralling quest for the horcruxes, but at least in this movie, things move briskly and do not bog down the way they did for a significant portion of Part 1. The pace escalates once the Battle of Hogwarts begins, racing downhill at breakneck speed toward the climactic face-off between Harry and Voldemort. Overall, Part 2 tells a more compelling and emotionally fulfilling tale than the one related in Part 1, although that could be a result of this movie having a conclusion - something its predecessor notably lacked.

Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who adapted six of the seven books (he stepped aside for The Order of the Phoenix so he could begin work on The Half-Blood Prince), and director David Yates, who helmed the final four films, have changed some of the details of the final battle to make them more cinematic. In deference to the books' fan base, they have kept the major events and favorite moments intact (such as the instance when Mrs. Weasley gains inspiration from Aliens' Ellen Ripley). However, with the Battle of Hogwarts, they do not do what Peter Jackson did with the Battle of Helms Deep in The Two Towers and expand it beyond what was on the written page. The Battle of Hogwarts is shown in bits and pieces but remains largely in the background as the story concentrates on Harry's desperate attempts to find one of the last horcruxes and prepare for his confrontation with Voldemort. Several key deaths during the Battle of Hogwarts either occur off-screen or happen in a flash on-screen (and may not be recognized until the dead are being counted in the aftermath).

A case can be made that the final conflict between Harry and Voldemort is anticlimactic, but that reflects the source material. It's unclear, however, whether adding more pyrotechnics would have made for a more spectacular conclusion. As the quest for the horcruxes emphasizes, defeating Voldemort isn't a single event; it's a process. With Harry Potter as with many epic fantasy stories, the journey matters more than the destination. It's almost impossible for the convergence of good and evil to meet inflated expectations. What matters here is that the story is told clearly and with faithfulness to the book, and that it resolves a conflict that has simmered for a decade.

Harry Potter has been getting darker both in look and thematic content since The Order of the Phoenix, where it began its transition from young adult material into something more substantive and mature. The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the darkest installment yet, with seemingly every scene taking place either at night or in lightless corridors and chambers. Hogwarts, once a playful bastion of safety, is now a gloomy, benighted place. Harry, Ron, and Hermione appear by turns harried, frightened, and resigned.

Epic fantasy is difficult to do in a movie. Beloved epic fantasy is even more challenging. The Deathly Hallows Part 2 achieves the nigh impossible and allows Harry Potter to go out on a high note. Fans can argue over which installment is the best, but The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is among the series' best paced and most breathlessly entertaining. It offers some of the most solid performances from the three principals, all of whom have grown into their roles as their bodies have filled out. Daniel Radcliffe, the nerdy boy protagonist of The Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, has become masculine and heroic. Emma Watson's acting has lost its wooden quality; she's very good here in a part that is more physically and emotionally demanding than anything she has had to do in the past. And Rupert Grint has evolved from a loveable clown into a dashing figure of derring-do.

Part 2 contains its share of emotionally wrenching moments, but these will not necessarily occur when fans expect them. It's fair to say that the most affecting sequences are tied into the unfurling of Snape's background, but the one that strikes with the most force is only alluded to, not explicitly described, in Rowling's novel. One element pruned in the book-to-movie transition is Dumbledore's lengthy back story. Those interested in learning more about the deceased headmaster of Hogwarts will have to delve into Rowling's text. (And nowhere is it even hinted at in the movie that Dumbledore is gay.)

A few words about the presentation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 are in order. This is a visual film, with a great emphasis on special effects and how it looks. The darkness is necessary to establishing the tone. The decision to do a post-production 3-D conversion is arguably the most ill-advised choice made in ten years of Harry Potter cinema. The 3-D isn't merely unnecessary; it is sloppy and serves only to damage the overall movie-going experience. Although not quite as bad as the two touchstones of inept 3-D, Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender, the surcharge-grubbing of The Deathly Hallows Part 2 may be considered more damning because this is a more important motion picture. 3-D never works well in dark movies; it reduces much of this one to a smattering of blurry, grimy images. There are times when the 3-D effects appear forced and unnatural, unintentionally taking the viewer out of the moment. Seek out this movie in 2-D - the way Yates filmed it and the format in which it will look the best. This is a time when paying less will yield superior results.

So now the time has come to say farewell to Mr. Potter, whose cinematic adventures have become a reliable way to mark the passage of years. Like Harry, many of his most devoted viewers have grown up, and the release of The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is cause for a curious juxtaposition of joy and sorrow. Joy that the story has now been told in its entirety on film. Sorrow that there will be no more. The epilogue, carefully adapted from the one in the book, provides a note of closure that a project of this magnitude deserves. This is important, because a project with the length and scope of Harry Potter warrants a fitting exit, one that leaves no bitter aftertaste. That is the case here; the franchise lives on to be cherished and enjoyed anew on home video both for those who have a chest of memories anchored to Harry and to those who are coming to know him for the first time.

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