This is the End, Beautiful Friend
A Film Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
By: Lawrence Napoli
Last year, I referred to Deathly Hallows Part 1 as a “necessary evil.” It was wrong on so many levels in terms of pacing and emotional balance that I found it to be the weakest individual film in what will be regarded as one of the finest film collections of all time. To devote negative energy to an entire film (even part 1 of a 2 part series) is very risky when considering the long period of time between the releases of DH1 and DH2. Deathly Hallows Part 2 quite literally picks up from the final frame of DH1 and wastes precious little time getting right into the drama as an ever increasing pace to the action commences once the introduction concludes. The fact that DH2 contains not only the climax for both Deathly Hallows, but also 6 films preceding them, is where DH2 has a decided advantage over the rest. This film is bursting with positive energy, but it is tempered by high drama as I was moved to tears of inspiration, determination and satisfaction on multiple occasions. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is crammed with exquisite visual effects, wizard combat, and wide angle/epic scale battle fronts, and it is all presented in a relevant and understandable fashion because it all serves the story. Transformers: Dark of the Moon could have taken notes, but then there was no semblance of a story to that film in the first place.
Quality performances and a production culture that encompasses 10 years worth of filmmaking experience is something I’d like to see more from Hollywood franchises. The people of the Harry Potter Films will always be what made these films unique from common popcorn/special effect drivel. The chemistry an audience sees within every Potter film is real because all of those actors, crew, writers and production staff (for the most part) have been engaging in this fictional evolution for a good part of their lives together. No method acting can substitute for that kind of reality. Few casts comprised of even the most seasoned veterans can produce that level of kinship and the resulting believability on screen. What makes this phenomenon more astounding is the fact that four different directors have left their imprints on this film franchise and despite that, all the films feel the same because they were all produced quite well and drew from great source material. This observation makes a strong case against the true significance of the director during a film’s production, but regardless, I congratulate David Yates for seeing Harry Potter to the finish line with a fine command and vision for Harry’s most recent adventures. He certainly got many fine performances from his cast, but he also wasn’t the first to do so.
As for the performances, all I can say is that every single actor makes the most of the scraps of screen time afforded them. As this film is a sendoff, almost every character from Harry Potter films past makes a brief cameo which is a shame in its limitation for the actors themselves, but one of those aforementioned “necessary evils.” Those who have missed any previous HP films will miss the references and the relevance of everything one sees which will dilute the experience of DH2. That being said, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione are (once again) solid in their support roles and finally manage some screen time apart from Harry to culminate their brewing attraction. Alan Rickman is allowed to finally breathe some human emotion into Severus Snape beyond deadpan stoicism, and when he lets his emotions go, it really pays off on screen. Michael Gambon reprises his role as Dumbledore with his trademark warmth, dignity and class. Ray Fiennes produces tumultuous terror as Voldemort, but does so in a reduced intensity from what was clearly established in Order of the Phoenix. This is quite the proper choice for Fiennes, as Harry is constantly knocking out Voldemort’s horcruxes (lifelines) which ought to translate into a diminishing physical capacity of the main antagonist. There are far too many others to mention as equally uplifting and satisfying in their appearances, but rest assured, every actor steps up their game and you’ll love every second of it.
Lest I forget Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. The audience has been privy to one of the finest performances of a child turned young person to young adult over the course of 8 mega-budget Hollywood productions. Radcliffe’s performances made Harry Potter more real than even Rowling herself could produce on paper on her best days. In that respect, Radcliffe has become more iconic to the franchise than the author herself. However many millions of people read the novels, that much more (think double) have experienced the films. That’s not to say Radcliffe’s performances were flawless. Despite his fluency with dramatic pauses, moments of calm, boyish charm and an ability to produce heartfelt friendship with the rest of the cast, Daniel struggles with more intense emotions for his character. Rage and romantic love still come off as being held back, if not outright awkward even in this final Harry Potter film. I still maintain screenwriting and direction as the primary culprits behind this, because far too much plot and exposition that establish Harry as the hero and the friend were essential to the stories of every Potter film, leaving little room for Harry as vengeful or Harry as passionate. Perhaps young people need to “hook up” on set for real to get the kind of chemistry I was looking for, but Radcliffe once again misses in his romantic scenes with Bonnie Wright as Ginny. What was particularly odd was their meeting again at Hogwart’s for the first time in a long while and the script didn’t even call for an embrace? That aside, Radcliffe is and will always be Harry Potter and the challenge for this young actor from now on will be growing a legacy apart from the opportunity that made him.
Visual effects are so essential to most fictional films these days, but they only enhance the story if their presence is secondary to the plot and not the other way around. Deathly Hallows Part 2 contains some of the finest CG work this summer, which may come a close second to Transformers in regards to the intricacy of the detail in every fabricated scene. The best examples in DH2 are any scene that involves magic being produced by people via wands or hands or otherwise. If one could visualize channeling lightning then morphing it into explosive fire, then you begin to understand what you will see in this film. The creature CG was almost as impressive as the sequence featuring the white dragon was quite impressive and the presence of Voldemort’s snake to be quite convincing. The critters come up a little short during the climactic battle as ogres/giants vs. Hogwart golems came off as more standard issue as opposed to awe inspiring. Regardless, no other film this summer is going to deliver a more eclectic range of eye candy. It is not to be missed for this fact alone.
Those who have a vested, emotional interest in the Harry Potter films will find in Deathly Hallows Part 2 an epic discharge of serenity and satisfaction that follows one of the most satisfying climaxes this side of the initial assault on the first Death Star. Casual viewers who may have missed a film here and there will not have the same experience because at the end of the day, DH2 is still a fragment of a film which requires familiarity to make any sense. Perhaps a six hour marathon watching both Deathly Hallow films back to back will yield an entirely different experience, as I would recommend Warner Bros. to release a deluxe edition of the Blu Ray/DVD that features a seamless transition between both films during one play through in home theatres. This film is one of the extreme few to not only meet its highly lauded hype, but exceed it. So many grand designs fall flat on their faces as a result of Hollywood being Hollywood that the notion of coming up short has become accepted as the norm. But then I am reminded of how the Harry Potter film franchise is a British design that was merely fueled by American dollars. The locations, cast, crew and production staff were all from the U.K. Harry Potter represents the best of everything that comes with the concept of “the second British invasion,” and its lasting effects on the imaginations and social consciences of all people around the globe will only be felt with the passage of time. We all have J.K. Rowling to thank for this wonderful adventure, and I feel this woman has been too much of an afterthought amidst the immense success of the film adaptations of her novels. I’d like to extend a personal appreciation for her efforts in creating a fictional world that rivals Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in regards to character, theme, intrigue and wonder. Well done Gryffindor! Well done.