Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & Part 2 (Review)

After a decade of watching in wonder, Harry Potter fans finally got to witness the epic conclusion to their favourite teen wizard saga, bringing the world’s most lucrative literary and film franchise to an appropriately powerful and satisfying close.  The ambitious finale entitled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been split into two parts as a means of including every minor detail from the novel, leaving nothing for Potter-ites to complain about; and to this effect, the films are a huge success.  But there is also an enormous amount of emotional depth to these final two entries, which somehow manage to wrap up dozens of character arcs and conflicts without feeling like they are glossing over any one aspect or becoming overextended at the expense of sheer spectacle.  The one downside is that the nature of their two-parted structure means they are destined to be very uneven.  Consequently, Part 2 is a far more satisfying film both visually and emotionally, offering the spectacular pay-off that fans have been demanding after the somber and contemplative Part 1.

Harry, Ron and Hermione are on the run in the Muggle-populated streets of London

When The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was released last winter, it felt very much like half of a film, centering on the plodding and somewhat unfocused journey of Harry, Ron and Hermione as they attempt to hunt down and destroy Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes (if you don’t know what these are, then I recommend you re-watch The Half-Blood Prince for clarification).  It embodied the definition of the word “penultimate,” serving as a necessary setup for the climactic confrontation that would follow, but failing somewhat as a standalone film when compared to previous Potter works.  Keep in mind that I believe it is incredibly well-made and gorgeously shot, as well as very emotionally complex thanks to the always-growing talents of director David Yates; but it’s notably a very different film than the others, shying away from that underlying sense of magical wonder that has come to define the franchise, and ultimately sending us off just as things are starting to pick up.

Much of Part 1 takes place across open landscapes, in eerie forests, and in the “real” world of Muggle-populated London, where the trio move like nomads from place to place, living out of a (magic) suitcase and avoiding detection by the Death Eaters.  This change of scenery away from the magical world of Hogwarts is bittersweet, showing how the series has matured from its kid-friendly adventure roots into a much darker, more depressing world of fear and isolation.  As such, more so than ever before, our beloved characters are seen struggling with their doubts in the face of a seemingly impossible task – a feeling that comes to dominate much of the narrative, leaving little room for humour or lightness.

Harry has come so far from that cramped closet under the stairs

There is the occasional scene of spectacular action (such as the incredible opening sequence of Harry’s escape, or the instance of disguised spy-work in the Ministry of Magic) but overall the film feels as if it falls short of the others in terms of spectacle, centering much more on the characters and their emotional struggles, as well as the dark state of things in the wizarding world.  Much is revealed concerning the nature of Horcruxes and the history of the Deathly Hallows themselves, although the film certainly takes its sweet time getting to a point where it begins to offer these answers.  By the time the credits roll, we are left with little to consider other than the tragic loss of a minor (though beloved) character, which is inevitably overshadowed our immense anticipation for seeing how everything will play out in Part 2.

Despite the relatively anticlimactic ending of Part 1, Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows takes no time at all to get things moving again, throwing us right back into the hunt for Horcruxes.  Thankfully, this time Harry, Ron and Hermione seem to have a much better idea of where to look and how to go about destroying them.  After a few helpful conversations with some old faces (the goblin Griphook and the wand-maker Ollivander – both characters who met Harry as a young boy back in the first film), Harry and friends embark on the seemingly impossible mission of breaking into Gringotts bank.  This opening adventure sets the pace for the rest of the film which moves forward with great speed and intensity, stopping only briefly in a few instances for some necessary exposition before jumping on to the next spectacular sequence.  It becomes apparent right away that Part 2 is going to be packed full of action and emotion, offering some much needed relief from the slower pace of Part 1 and delivering on everything that film was sorely missing.

Harry and Voldemort finally confront each other and battle Voldemort's bad breath

It is not long before the trio make a triumphant return to Hogwarts and to their army of friends, peers and professors who continue to attend under the forceful rule of the new Headmaster, Severus Snape.  Harry’s presence causes a swift revolution, restoring the school to it’s natural order just in time to prepare for a monstrous attack by Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters.  Several characters who have taken a back seat in the past few Potter films are brought back into the spotlight and given grand opportunities to shine, with Prof. McGonagall and Neville Longbottom making particularly strong impressions.  The nature of the plot also causes several of the series’ most memorable objects and locations to reappear, creating an enhanced sense of continuity between the stories which allows everything to come together quite seamlessly by the end.

As well, Snape is finally given his long-awaited moment of redemption, told through a series of flashbacks from the course of his entire life which are viewed by Harry in Dumbledore’s pensieve.  This scene is arguably the most touching moment of the entire film, carrying an emotional weight that grounds things with an element of genuine human drama just as the monstrous battle between good and evil approaches its climax.  The effect causes us to rethink the nature of his entire character, and warrants his longstanding sacrifices for the wizarding community while confirming his status as one of the series’ most tragically misunderstood heroes (and one of my favourite characters).

Hogwarts becomes the battleground for the final showdown between good and evil

Those who haven’t read the final novel may be thrown or confused by some aspects of the conclusion; but these qualms are apt to be purely subjective, relating more to the nature of J.K. Rowling’s novel than to the film itself.  Indeed, David Yates was smart enough not to attempt to alter or re-write any elements of the text for the sake of the screen.  Despite the slightly excessive “clashing magic beams of different colours” moments between Harry and Voldemort at the end, the whole climax is quite thrilling and satisfying, staying true to the novel in all the right ways and taking the breath away on several occasions.

In the end, these final two films taken as one are an undeniable success, and could even be considered one of cinema’s greatest examples of a direct novel-to-film adaptation, staying faithfully true to the source material while still offering sufficient cinematic thrills to excel on their own as pieces of artistic filmmaking.  Even the somewhat cheesy Epilogue is kept in tact, serving to wrap things up with what feels like a firm “no sequels” stamp on the series, at least as far as Harry, Ron and Hermione’s stories are concerned.  Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the producers are smart enough to quit while they’re ahead and take this triumphant conclusion as the final word for the wizarding world of Hogwarts.  I can only imagine where things will go if they get greedy enough to begin exploring a “Potter Jr.” concept…

R     A     T     I     N     G     S     :

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: 3.5/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: 5/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010, UK, PG-13: 146 mins) Director: David Yates.  Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Jason Isaacs, Evanna Lynch, and Bonnie Wright.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011, UK, PG-13: 130 mins) Director: David Yates.  Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Gring, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, David Thewlis, and John Hurt.

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~ by Mark D'Amico on August 1, 2011.

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