After more than a decade, seven books and eight films, J.K. Rowling’s beloved saga comes to a close with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which provides an exciting, emotional and satisfying conclusion to the series while also showcasing exactly how dark and somber the story has become since its wide-eyed beginnings.
We have watched this series for a decade now, and watched the three main actors grow from cute little youngsters to capable actors. Harry, Hermione and Ron are adults now, as are the actors who played them, and many of the fans have grown up alongside Harry and his friends. The series grew darker and more mature as it went along, and by the end of the series, the stakes have grown truly dire.
Much of the pleasure from this last film comes from the sense of time passing, of following along with the story for years and having our understanding of the story mature along with the characters. A series of flashbacks comes near the end of the film, and it has all the more impact as we think back to the earlier films and realize that there was more going on than we realized, which is something that is all the more rewarding because of the familiarity we have with all the characters.
This film assumes that level of familiarity, that you know what the Room of Requirement is, and don’t need to be told what Polyjuice Potion does. Anyone foolish enough to watch this without any prior knowledge of the series will most likely be lost, but for the rest of us this is a supremely satisfying conclusion.
After a few introductory scenes, the film jumps right back into Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) searching for horcruxes, pieces of the soul of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) that he has hidden in an effort to become immortal. The three stage a heist of the wizard bank Gringott’s in an effort to break into the vault belonging to Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), in which one of the horcruxes is hidden.
From there, the movie adjourns to Hogwarts, where most of the second half of the film is taken up by the attack on the school by Voldemort and his Death Eaters as Harry and his friends try to find the rest of the horcruxes and figure out how to defeat Voldemort for good. There isn’t much more to the plot than that, and the goals are quite simple, but there is a ton of incident that keeps things moving along.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who scripted all the films in the series but one (as well as the great Wonder Boys and The Fabulous Baker Boys) has made the final battle a little more cinematic, showing us more of it while still keeping it mostly in the background. I quite like how we mostly see bits and pieces of the Battle of Hogwarts at the edges of scenes and in the background, as our three heroes are trying to perform smaller missions in the midst of this titanic battle that is raging all around them.
Likewise, the filmmakers have changed the ending somewhat, to give Harry and Voldemort the chance to have more of a one-on-one confrontation than they did in the book, and the movie is better off for it, as it gives a more personal feel to the story’s climax.
The film was directed by David Yates, who helmed the three previous films in the series as well, and, with the help of cinematographer Eduardo Serra, Yates does perhaps his best visual work here. He handles the gigantic action setpieces very well, cleanly laying out the huge battle scenes so we can understand what is happening, but he is also wonderful in the film’s opening scenes, which are almost perversely still and foreboding when contrasted with the bedlam near the film’s end.
The previous film had the extended camping interlude, in which nothing much happened and the characters didn’t know what to do, but after all that soul searching and self-doubt, this film is pretty much all action. At 130 minutes, it’s the shortest of the series, and it’s breathlessly paced.
Of course, being so brisk has its drawbacks.
Some beloved supporting characters get offscreen deaths that are barely remarked on. Of course, this problem originated in the book, and the film does have a lot to get through, but fans may still feel like these characters deserved a better sendoff.
Such fine actors as Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane and David Thewlis get a line or two to remind us that they’re still around, but don’t have much of substance to do. Some characters fare a little better. It’s fitting that a story so sprawling finds time for other characters besides the main three. Here, Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), Molly Weasley (Julie Walter) and Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith) all get a chance to shine, and Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) confirms his place as the stealth badass he’s been all along.
Fiennes gets perhaps his best showcase in the series here, as his silkily sinister voice insinuates itself into the minds of all the characters during the climactic battle, promising that he’ll let them live if they give up Harry Potter. He also gets some great smaller moments illuminating just how frightening he is. Just witness the scene in which he walks through the aftermath of a slaughter, with his bare feet covered in blood, or another scene, in which he hugs Draco Malfoy like he’d learned how to do it from reading a book.
Rickman gets one of his patented speeches filled with…awkward…pauses, and he also does some remarkably soulful work in scenes that finally reveal Snape’s full role in the story and his true intentions. Rickman always had a deceptively tough job here. He got to be showily sinister at times, but he also had to reveal the true, damaged soul of his character almost subliminally, since Snape was always careful to keep everything close to the vest, and Rickman has always been up to the job. When all is said and done, Snape’s arc, and Rickman’s performance, may be the best thing in the films.
Even though Harry has never necessarily been the most interesting character in his own story, Radcliffe is a capable anchor for the series, and ably projects the heroism and nobility in Harry while still making him seem human and vulnerable. Grint has grown from mere comic relief into a more assured presence, and Watson, who has always been the best actor of the main three, continues to be as poised and strong as her character requires.
The Harry Potter saga is, among other things, a story about maturing, and the films have done as much growing up over the last 10 years as the audience has. Everything from the actors to the writing to the quality of the filmmaking has deepened over time, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 brings the series in for an emotionally powerful and rewarding landing that will definitely satisfy longtime fans.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.