July 31, 2011 – Having not gotten around to this review until well after the film hit theaters, I find that I’m glad it took so long to get around to so I could put my thoughts together about it. Being an unabashed Harry Potter fan, particularly of the book series, it is a sad thing to see the very last car of the Harry Potter train pull into the station. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything of this scope for quite some time. While the films have never been perfect, they have still been a great addition, a compliment, to the magical world Rowling built, and in that sense, this final film follows directly in that tradition.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. I’m not going to summarize any of the story bits because if you don’t know it by now, it isn’t going to help. This is a film meant specifically for fans of the series. There is no bringing in the uninitiated, and for what it’s meant to be, it shouldn’t waste time with such things. But when I mean fans of the series, I mean fans of the book series, because people who’ve only watched the films will be left nearly as confused and dazed as someone who has had no experience with the series at all. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the basic point is still there. Plot points, character appearances and motivations will pop out of nowhere and return to nothing in mere minutes, or even seconds. These aren’t minor elements either, but huge chunks that provide the backbone of the story. I could fill in the gaps because I’m in the know, but that simply isn’t true of the uninitiated.
This fundamental flaw, that the movies simply can’t be as intricate as the books, has been the bane of every single one of these movies since they were first projected on the silver screen. It takes the punch out of the emotional weight and significance of many of the sequences in each film. In “The Deathly Hallows, Part 2” major questions remain unanswered regarding the shard of mirror that Harry Potter suddenly had for no good reason two movies ago. Pretty much all of the complicated political machinations that make the current situation in the wizarding world what they are are absent, and how exactly did Hagrid get captured by Voldermort again?
These things are, in a sense, understandably glossed over. After all, you can’t show everything. But they are the cracks that threaten the stability of every movie. Really, given the complexity of what has come before, it’s a bit of a surprise that the writers managed to make this last film as cohesive as they did. The film makers might have bee able to rectify this further if they didn’t have so many slowly panning shots of the main trio throughout the film,and given some of that time for other things.
The other big problem with the film is simply how the ending seemed anticlimactic. This wasn’t a problem in the books, where there was a suitable cheer and celebration in the event of Voldermort’s death. We’ve had three straight movies before this of intense introspection and grief, with little to no reprieve. The books were smart enough to give us the victory lap, so why couldn’t this movie? I felt the fight between Harry and Voldermort was suitably harrowing, but it was like a brick falling in an empty room. A big bang, followed by a hollow echo. The epilogue scene at the end was not, nor should it have been, a replacement.
There are lots of little things to go on about, but those two were this film’s true failings, so now that I’m done ragging on it, let’s talk about what the film got right. This begins with the acting. The main trio of Harry, Ron and Hermoine (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson respectively) are all at their best, being a great showcase for how they have grown as actors with their characters, but the real standouts are Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman.) What little time Rickman is given on screen, he manages to imbue Snape with the hidden sadness that comes to light in the final installment of the book series with great subtlety and power, meanwhile Fiennes chews the scenery with a captivating performance as Voldermort, one of the most iconic screen villains, right up there with “The Dark Knight”’s Joker and Darth Vader.
The film also manages to highlight Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and turn him into the (mostly) unsung hero of the Harry Potter universe, and Lewis portrays him as the simple and brave figure he is, not a hero wrapped up in a grand destiny, but rather a man doing what is right despite the circumstances. Other performances of merit include all of the Malfoy family, who manage to convey in the little time they have on screen the complexities of their relationships and who they are as people.
One scene that I felt was actually better in the film than the book was the Epilogue sequence. Without giving anything away, the ending of the book was, while sweet, a bit too sappy and so thoroughly wrapped up nice and neat (complete with those terrible name choices – fans know what I mean) that big red bows practically hit you from out of the page. The film’s epilogue is shorter, and while it doesn’t fully give satisfaction, it avoids much of the sweet sugary sap of the book, while still giving fans a heavy feeling of nostalgia as the circle of life begins anew for another generation of wizards and witches.
Outside of the acting, the special effects are terrific as usual, providing great visuals to accompany the story, and the music is, of course, terrific, though nothing gets to quite the same incredible heights as the theme from the first film. The action is generally spectacular, with lots of explosions and bright flashing lights, even if it’s not as evenly spaced out or placed as it could be.
What this film does best is, as always, translate the atmosphere and heart of the books to the big screen, even if it stumbles over plot and specifics. For all of it’s faults, it is a loving tribute to one of modern literature’s landmarks: a children’s book series that grew into something much more, and transformed culture as we know it, with a wondrous world, high-flying adventure, powerful and complex characters, and a deep well of moral understanding that will be an influence on generations to come.
STAR RATING: (4)
For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.
Most of the spoilerific things I could talk about center around my problems with the film, rather than it’s strengths. Wow did they shortchange Fred’s death. For that matter, I had hoped that the filmmakers would actually take the opportunity to make something of most of the off screen deaths, but we don’t get that sort of closure here. The deaths of both Lupin and Tonks are just as out of sight as the books, with at least the benefit of the beautifully sad image of them lying next to one another, almost touching hands. There was a chance to do these sorts of things, but it wasn’t taken.
I actually really didn’t like the fact that Voldermort could feel his Horcrux’s being destroyed. Part of what made the books so satisfying was how he couldn’t see it coming, and was arrogant and sure until his demise. In the film, we see him become mentally unraveled. He becomes less and less sure of himself. More and more paranoid. It was interesting in it’s way, but I think it made him slightly less intimidating than he was in previous films, and in the books.
Boy, Snape was kicked out of office fast. Quite frankly, for his importance to the story of the entire series, I was saddened by how little we got to see of him. Couldn’t the writers have taken a little bit of extra time with his scenes, especially the pensieve memories? What was easily one of my favorite sequences in the book was given barely a few minutes in the film. Poo.
I was disappointed in the Hogwarts grand hall. It felt gigantic in the first few movies, but in this film, it feels tiny. What is the seating capacity like? Two-hundred with standing room only? I understand that the directors want to communicate that this isn’t your freshman year’s Hogwarts, but it doesn’t feel realistic. A massive hall that is left mostly empty and dark by children being kept out of school is a much more powerful image.
As for the final battles, I wanted to see the house elves get in on the action. Heck, when it comes down to it, if they are going to take inspiration from sci-fi films in having a massive shield around the school and a spell barrage, then why not make Hogwarts feel more like a battlefield with beams of light shooting everywhere. To be honest, the battle felt sort of muted once they got past the barrier and the moving armor.
That said, there is a lot of good to be seen as well. I enjoyed pretty much the whole breaking into Gringotts sequence, with Helena Bonham Carter doing a truly bang-up job pretending to be Hermoine pretending to be Belatrix. I like everything with Neville too. Good show.
Molly Weasley’s fight with Belatrix could have used some more punch, in my opinion. The fight as is, under a different context and with the wrong music, could have practically been slapstick comedy.
I could go on, but to sum up my feelings nothing in the film really ever reached the level of epicness that I had in my mind when I read the books, and as I said in the review, that has always been a problem of the series, and not one easily solved. People long said that Watchmen was an unfilmable work, but I personally think that Harry Potter is a lot harder to film successfully.