They saved the best for last: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a wholly satisfying conclusion to the decade-long Harry Potter franchise, an eight-movie affair that cost billions to produce and market and will gross many times that amount when all is said and done. As a whole, the Potter franchise is one of contemporary cinema’s more impressive achievements, and Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a fitting end.
I’ve been particularly impressed with some of the breathless action climaxes I’ve seen in recent films, from Transformers: Dark of the Moon‘s 40-minute devastation of Chicago (still, it wasn’t enough to save the film) to the epic hour-long samurai showdown in Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins (this one, I can wholeheartedly recommend).
Deathly Hallows: Part 2 isn’t all action, but it is all climax: with Deathly Hallows: Part 1′s setup and exposition out of the way, Part 2 wastes no time in delivering a thunderous finale that showcases epic battle sequences, the destruction of Hogwarts, the deaths of several major characters, and the ultimate Harry vs. Voldemort showdown.
Part 2 picks up right where the previous entry left off, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) on the lam, searching for the remaining Horcruxes that will, when destroyed, finally de-immortalize Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and allow for a final confrontation. After raiding the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) for one of the Horcruxes, the trio risk exposure and head back to Hogwarts to search for the next one.
Here’s where the film really kicks into gear. Harry is called out by current headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who flees the school after Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) intervenes on Harry’s behalf. As Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters prepare to attack Hogwarts, Minerva and the other professors lock down the school, and Harry and co. continue their search for the remaining Horcruxes.
For a series that has often jumped around from plot point to plot point while adapting – faithfully, I’m told, but perhaps anxiously – the detailed source novels, the final 90-minute showdown at Hogwarts is a real pleasure to watch. Precise and extremely well-executed, with enough time dedicated to each event, this is one of the rare times the series has felt completely at ease and been allowed to wow us from a pure filmmaking perspective.
Still, it’s not perfect. I’m not so sure they should’ve broken J.K. Rowling’s final Potter book into two movies – Deathly Hallows: Part 1, on its own, is still an overlong and ponderous film that sorely misses some kind of internal resolution – and Part 2 is all climax, with little concession made for non-fans; eight months after the previous installment, I kept finding myself playing catch-up (the slowish start, picking up after a strange choice for the break, helps a little in that regard.) For a series notoriously heavy on exposition, there’s a decided lack of it here.
But that’s forgivable when delivering such an exciting, tightly-paced ride – at just around two hours minus the end credits, this is the shortest Potter film of them all. A welcome development, especially when thinking back to Return of the King and its endless parade of endings; a short, simple epilogue here sends Harry Potter off on the perfect note (and also leaves the door open for sequels, even though Rowling claims this is the end.)
I was also impressed by the number of surprises the film had in store for someone who hasn’t read the novels; things don’t always turn out as I thought they would. But that doesn’t include the ultimate Snape revelation, which was obvious from the first film and represented the worst is-he-or-isn’t-he Scooby Doo mystery in the series, played out over and over ad nauseum. At least it’s finally over, with Rickman delivering some particularly poignant work.
Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is among the best-looking of all the Potter films: the CGI is the most accomplished, the cinematography (by Eduardo Serra) is often breathtaking, and the sets (including a number of surreal, dreamlike sequences) can be quite beautiful. It’s also an extremely dark film – that fits the tone here, but a lot can get lost in the shadows. I saw an exquisite 2D 4K digital transfer at CineStar Anděl, but I imagine the 3D, which adds another layer of darkness, might get oppressive.
Two climatic scenes elicited rounds of unintentional(?) laughter at my opening night screening: in the first, Fiennes’ Voldemort, gleeful for the very first time, seems to morph into Will Ferrell for a split-second. The second is the epilogue, set 19 years later; after watching these young characters age naturally over the course of a decade (a brief flashback to the first film – my, how young they were! – provides one of the more affecting scenes here), the cheesy (if slight) old-age effects in the epilogue are sure to induce giggles.
The best Potter film? I still prefer Half-Blood Prince (though few others seem to) for its focus on character development and the memorable finale. After that, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ranks right up there alongside Prisoner of Azkaban. After a shaky debut with Order of the Phoenix, director David Yates has really impressed. And Steve Kloves, who has adapted the novels for seven of the eight films, deserves a lot of credit, even if diehard fans of the novels give him trouble.