Saturday, July 16, 2011
DAMN Good Movies -- HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2
Once again, I'm back with another of my infamous movie reviews, this time aiming my wand at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. If you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want it spoiled for you, then for cryin’ out loud, stop reading now. If, however, you are wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more fun and interesting than the ones without them…well, Expecto Patronum!
"It's the end...but the moment has been prepared for." No, wait...Sorry, that's someone else entirely.
So here we are, the last Harry Potter movie. Go on, savor the moment...We've earned it. It’s been an entertaining ten years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, with many highs and a number of lows for this unprecedented eight-film saga. Fans of J.K. Rowling's phenomenon of Harry Potter books have been rewarded by mostly faithful adaptations of the source material, some of which actually improved on their original storytelling format.
In this final film, we concentrate on the second half of good ol' J.K.'s last 750+ page novel, thankfully the half that actually has something interesting taking place instead of camping, camping, camping and oh, yeah...camping. The stage has been properly set for the ultimate showdown at Hogwarts, with the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's Army and the Hogwarts teaching staff joining forces against Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater minions of villainous bad guy evildoerdom. LLLLet's get ready to rummmmmblllllllllllllle...
Taking a page from The Lord of the Rings films, director David Yates dives right in from the previous Part One with Voldemort obtaining the Elder Wand and presumes (correctly) that anyone watching Part Two won't need a silly recap. And once again, cinematographer Eduardo Serra treats us to a film that looks postively stunning, with powerful visuals ranging from the underground Gringotts vaults, the burning Quidditch stadium and a strangely beautiful mystical energy shield that surrounds and protects Hogwarts from attack. The Harry Potter films have come such a long way from their inception, growing and maturing as the characters (and their audience) have over time. So with these spectacular visuals and such a stellar cast, it gets a bit frustrating when the film's pacing is uneven at times. Just when things get good and the adrenaline starts to rush, the film abruptly shuts down into talking heads and any sense of building momentum is lost. I can't fault Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves too much, however, because they're obviously limited by the poor structure of J.K. Rowling's novel.
That said, the film does what it needs to do. Rowling's final see-what-I-did-there plot points are adequately addressed, the good guys win (although not unscathed), evil is defeated, and we send the central characters off with the 19-year epilogue that establishes the passing of the torch to a new generation of Hogwarts students. The conclusion to this saga is satisfying enough that you overlook flaws such as the throwaway emotionless scene of Fred Weasley's death or disappointing blink-and-you-miss-them cameos by some past characters such as Madame Pomfrey or Professor Trelawney.
And about that epilogue...It's intended to be a tear-inducing sendoff that makes you want to find out what happens to the next generation, but instead comes off as more of an underwhelming "Oh, that's nice" bit of supplemental material. I have to wonder, though, if the epilogue would've been more effective and resonating if the camera had pulled back just before the end to reveal Rowling herself reading the final lines from her book to a group of children:
The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The train rounded a corner. Harry's hand was still raised in farewell.
"He'll be all right," muttered Ginny.
As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
"I know he will."
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.
There...Isn't that more lovely and fitting of a sendoff?
As always, this last Harry Potter film boasts one of the strongest casts in cinema history with many of them making the most of their spotlight scenes. Here’s what I felt stood out about their characters this time around…
HARRY JAMES POTTER: The final showdown between Harry and Voldemort mandated that Daniel Radcliffe step up to the plate and he certainly hit a solid home run. Radcliffe hasn't always been the strongest of the cast but he seems to give his all here and depicts Harry as ready and determied to end this one way or the other.
RON BILIUS WEASLEY: Ron gets somewhat marginalized here, understandably, but he finally gets to kiss the girl and sadly loses his older brother Fred. His best scenes, though, have to be when he impresses Herimone with his cleverness and shows that he's more than just a lovable dolt.
HERMIONE JEAN GRANGER: As bad as Ron gets sidelined, Hermione gets it even worse. In addition to her scenes with Ron, she does get a fun sequence where she uses Polyjuice Potion to impersonate Bellatrix Lestrange to amusing results. Hopefully, she remembers at some point to go back and remove the memory-wiping spell from her parents.
LORD “HE WHO MUST NOT BE CALLED TOM RIDDLE” VOLDEMORT: After film after film of buildup, ol' Lord Voldemort finally gets to stop posting on Twitter and get down to the business of fighting his teenage nemesis. Ralph Fiennes is in fine form here, chewing some scenery when not weakened every so often by a destroyed Horcrux. Unfortunately, his actual death after a wand battle is a bit anticlimactic and looks like someone threw the movie script on a campfire and watched the ashes rise up in the wind.
BELLATRIX LESTRANGE: Helena Bonham Carter always seems like she enjoys playing the crazed Bellatrix and her last outing is no different. She shows some nice comic timing portraying Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix, but like Voldemort, she ends up with a POOF-she's-gone death that feels a bit cheap.
SEVERUS SNAPE: Alan Rickman gives his best Alan Rickman performance as Alan Rickman's answering machine when addressing the Hogwarts students as headmaster. He does, however, get the best death scene in the movie and the flashback scenes with the younger Snape make you wonder if he's really Harry's father instead of James.
DRACO MALFOY: After being confronted about his lie to Bellatrix in Part One, we don't really see Malfoy much until he needs to be rescued in the Room of Requirement. He does manage to be one of the few characters shown in the epilogue to establish his son, Scorpius.
LUCIUS AND NARCISSA MALFOY: It's always fun to see Jason Isaacs as Lucius, but he gets so little screen time here. Helen McCrory has a bit more to do as Narcissa when she lies to Voldemort about Harry surviving the Avada Kedavra curse. Unfortunately, there's no explanation that the Malfoys manage to avoid being sent to Azkaban prison.
NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM: Matthew Lewis finally gets to truly shine as Neville in a way that he really hasn't since the first film ten years ago. Apart from giving a big (albeit modestly polite) eff you to Voldemort, he takes out a bunch of Snatchers destroying the Hogwarts bridge, acquires the sword of Godric Gryffindor and uses it to decapitate Nagini, making Voldemort mortal once again in the process. Oh, and he professess his sudden and abrupt love for Luna Lovegood. Not bad for a guy who ends up becoming the Hogwarts Herbology professor.
MINERVA MCGONAGALL: As ever, Dame Maggie Smith is so much fun to watch as McGonagall. She gets to show off McGonagall's rare playful side with one spell, then turns around and rallies everyone to prepare for the Death Eaters' assault on Hogwarts. It would've been nice if a quick explanation was worked in to reveal that she becomes Headmistress of Hogwarts after Snape's death.
ALBUS PERCIVAL WULFRIC BRIAN DUMBLEDORE: Yes, his character is still dead, but Michael Gambon gets one last shot as Dumbledore in a flashback scene with Snape which reveals that Dumbledore was dying anyway. He also gets a touching scene in the limbo-like King's Cross where he explains, in typical vague terms, that Harry must die because he's another Horcrux. For a role that the late Richard Harris owned so early on in the series, Gambon quickly managed to make it his own and his portrayal will be the one remembered for years to come.
ABERFORTH DUMBLEDORE: Ciarán Hinds gets the role of Old Exposition Guy now that his character's brother is dead. His job is simply to get Harry, Ron and Hermione from one place to another in the story and explain how Dobby the Dead House Elf rescued them from Malfoy Manor.
GRIPHOOK: After occasional cameos as Professor Flitwick, Warwick Davis finally gets some decent screen time as the backstabbing goblin Griphook. He also gets another of Rowling's see-what-I-did-there moments by explaining that he was the goblin in the first film that escorted Harry and Hagrid to Harry's vault.
HELENA RAVENCLAW: As another of Rowling's beloved expository characters, Boardwalk Empire's Kelly MacDonald gets to deliver some necessary plot information as the Grey Lady. At this point, Macdonald has to be glad she squeaked in as a member of the Harry Potter U.K. Actors Club so she can get invitations to a better societal class of parties.
OLLIVANDER: Yet another character who was there at the beginning and brought back for the end, John Hurt returns as Ollivander to provide expository information about the Elder Wand. Hands up if you're seeing a pattern in J.K. Rowling's writing style by now.
RUBEUS HAGRID: Robbie Coltrane comes back once more as Hagrid just to turn up as a captive in the Death Eaters' camp in the Forbidden Forest and to carry Harry's only-mostly-dead body out of the forest. At least he gets a quick hug from Harry back at Hogwarts after everything's said and done.
LUNA LOVEGOOD: I always enjoy seeing Evanna Lynch as Luna and I wish she had gotten more to do in the final film. She gets to flesh out the Ravenclaw searching scenes a bit and it's fun when she yells at Harry to pay attention and focus.
FRED AND GEORGE WEASLEY: Fred dies (somehow) and George and some of the other Weasleys are understandably a bit upset about it for a little while. That's it.
GINEVRA “GINNY” MOLLY WEASLEY: Bonnie Wright returns as Ginny shows up to give Harry a quick kiss and tell him she knows he loves her before he goes off to duke it out with Voldemort. She then turns up in the epilogue to look nineteen years older and show that she married Harry. An appropriately unremarkable end.
ARTHUR AND MOLLY WEASLEY: Arthur only gets a quick cameo to fight Death Eaters and grieve over Fred, but Molly gets the big "Step back from my daughter, beyotch" moment when she takes out Bellatrix. Both Julie Walters and David Yates kind of undersold such a classic moment from the book, but at least it was in there and that's really all that matters.
REMUS LUPIN AND NYMPHADORA TONKS: David Thewlis and Natalia Tena come back just long enough to show that their characters were killed off. No mention whatsoever that they have a son named Teddy and that he's now an orphan.
SEAMUS FINNEGAN: At last, someone realizes that Seamus' true talent lies in blowing shit up even if you don't actually get to see him do it here.
LILY AND JAMES POTTER: In addition to the aforementioned flashback scenes with Snape and give more background on their deaths, Lily and James turn up as ghosts to give their best Obi-Wan Kenobi so that Harry knows his parents are with him when he makes his self-sacrifice at the hands of Voldemort.
SIRIUS BLACK: The always brilliant Gary Oldman also makes a return appearance, pulling the same Obi-Wan shtick as Lily and James. Thanks for the help from beyond the grave there, Sirius.
ARGUS FILCH: David Bradley makes of couple of quick final cameos as Filch, once to grumble that students are out of bed and another to show that he's probably going to be the one stuck with cleaning up that whole damn mess. Sucks to be you, Filch.
NAGINI: Dies. Finally. Snakes...Why'd it have to be snakes?
All in all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 2 was a solid final installment of the series, (Hog)warts and all. Judging by the initial box office reports, this film could've been half as good and still would haul in a boatload of cash because everybody needs to know how it ends...even if they've already read the book. I still find it incredible that there was only one major recasting throughout eight films over the span of ten years and even that was due to the actor's death. It's so rare to accomplish this for four films these days, let alone eight, so I think we should take comfort that these films turned out as well and as consistent as they did. It was nothing short of...well...magic.
And for anyone who might be wondering, here’s my personal ranking of the Harry Potter films:
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (2011)
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010)
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)