REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Guides the Franchise to a Graceful, Moving End

Movieline Score: 9

Editor's note: This review may contain spoilers, particularly for those who haven't read the books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was an in-between moment of a movie, a picture that left many fans of this most unusual movie franchise -- not to mention the books they're based on -- feeling adrift and forlorn. By necessity, it was only a story half-told: Adapting the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's series required splitting the story into two parts. Now, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves guide the story to a graceful and satisfying end. The movie's final moments are the equivalent of the half-jubilant, half-mournful thrill you get when you close the cover of a book you've savored.

Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with little preamble and very few helpful reminders of what went down before: It hits the ground running, assuming its audience is primed and up-to-speed. Instead of following the current trend of spoon-feeding moviegoers as if they were imbeciles, Yates trusts that we're right there, following along with him.

That's important, because there's plenty of complicated ground to cover. With Albus Dumbledore dead -- played once again by Michael Gambon, he appears here in brief flashbacks and in one marvelous, near-climactic afterlife sequence -- Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) has taken control of Hogwarts, in the process turning it all chilly and gray. He gathers the students in the Great Hall, warning them that truly bad stuff will happen if anyone attempts to help the errant Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Just as he's issuing this stern pronouncement, Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) step forward, along with the friends and de facto family members who have joined forces to help them vanquish Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, with his eerily erased nose, like an aftereffect of the Photoshop of Evil). They already have one dangerous exploit under their belt: With Hermione disguised, cleverly and charmingly, as the Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange (played by the marvelously loopy Helena Bonham Carter), they've broken into Bellatrix's vault at Gringotts Bank, in search of one of the three remaining Horcruxes -- those would be, for the uninitiated, the vessels of evil in which Voldemort has hidden pieces of his own black soul.

The adventure that unfolds from there involves all sorts of wondrous sights, some of them purely terrifying and others brushed with wonder: A flying, squawking winged serpent; a giant twin-headed fire serpent whose softly outlined, undulating curves are almost soothing to look at, until its horrific set of jaws open wide; and more sightings of the mysterious patronus that appears before Harry in times of trouble, a doe whose contours are formed by threads of silvery smoke.

We already know that patronus means something to Harry. But what Part 2 reveals is that it also carries deep significance for Snape. One of the delights of the Harry Potter movies -- the great ones, like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, also directed by Yates, and Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and even the chintzy-looking renderings of the first two movies made by the hapless Chris Columbus -- is the way in which each one allows a previously introduced character to shine a little more. That organic sense of character development is built right into Rowling's books, and it offers vast opportunities for smart, creative directors and actors. Rowling laid terrific groundwork, especially, for the younger performers featured in the Harry Potter movies; her stories were built a way that, once they'd been transformed into scripts, provided sturdy roles for actors to grow into.

Here, the shy, nerdy, socially inept Neville Longbottom -- played by Matthew Lewis -- steps to the fore with an eloquent, elegiac speech that hints at the gracefulness that lurks beneath the gawky surface of adolescence. He's only just now becoming the person he was meant to be, an element of the open-hearted, democratic nature of Rowling's work: People shouldn't be written off until we've gotten to know them fully, and even then, they can surprise us. Lewis was at first one of the more awkward of the young supporting players in the Harry Potter movies, though he's also always been one of the most charming. Now, he plays this older, more self-assured Neville with billygoat sure-footedness. And as another of the recurring characters, the wraithlike, spacy-smart Luna Lovegood (played by the wispy-wonderful Evanna Lynch) notices, he's also grown conspicuously attractive, in the way bright, kind-hearted guys so often are.

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Comments

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    I think I would rather have preferred some discord: unlike LOTR, the series always struck me as too much moved to give people exactly what they want; which wouldn't be a problem, if I didn't think they mostly wanted to be played to and lied to. The most interesting part of the series was when the matronly lady took control of Hogwarths and tortured Harry for a torturously-long period of no respite -- it almost seemed to be asking us why we've "took" to a miracle hero and wonders galore, if not for some kind of magical flight, arisen from having known the same. The director of course, aware of our anxieties and heeding them, made it seem as if this was an episode of no lasting import; the disturbances that ended her weren't deus ex machina from a situation that not even the chosen one was going to look REALLY capable of making a dent in, let alone a wizard, let alone toy twins, but just another example of bubbled-up, expected enterprise by the dogged Hogwarth kids. It WAS deus ex machina, though, a play to those who can't be expected to confront reality (and if you don't like having to straight-faced endure such flight-from-reality, fantasy escapes: brother, I know your pain!): the only people who REALLY go for this series are those who've either put themselves to or have only known pasture. Despite the displays of genuine previous-generation marvels and awesome life, you'll not find, I don't think, a true hero amongst them. Wish them all well, but another reason to dip back at least twenty years, when there really were heroes.

  • Jeremy says:

    @Patrick McEvoy-Halston "...you'll not find, I don't think, a true hero amongst them. Wish them all well, but another reason to dip back at least twenty years, when there really were heroes."
    In film four (and maybe in the book?) Dumbledore says he has no time for heroes. After all this story is at bottom about ordinary flawed people trying to do the right thing. I would not put my trust in 'heroes' if I was you.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    Harry is the chosen one, though -- the one who owing to something along the lines of just having the right DNA, has more magic than anyone else. Hermione is smarter than anyone else. Mr. Ordinary, Ron, is the "football" star, and is more genial and accessible and brawny brave than anyone else. They're not especially ordinary, nor flawed in anyway that doesn't draw out the more starkly their gifts -- they remain magically empowered artificats we can step into, to feel a bit more buttressed against a theatening world. (The castle Hogwarths, too, kept us for awhile feeling a bit more ensconsed and protected too -- our need for such is what drew us all Americans to drift so British private school this long while.) The rest were ordinary and flawed enough to have need for their time of ripening, before showing how they've come to be not so much ordinary anymore, but they're yet all wizards; from the beginning -- all elected, all special.
    Have we discarded this need for narcissistic inflation as the series went along? As Hogwarths falls and our heroes become more enfleshed and real, and less simply possessed of, protected by, notable attributes, does the series really become just ordinary people trying to do good in face of terrible opposition? I'm not sure, because something of this feels route too -- simply how it would go for these storybook heroes; simply how we'd have wanted it. There are outside factors cooperating in this -- we're still not so naked and unprotected, only convincingly made to feel we're obviously full right to think ourselves so.
    When Harry was up against that pressing matron lady, he very much seemed in need of being more than ordinary and flawed to be able to withstand her. The protective older wizard drew back, Hogwarths was hers, and his magic and special choseness wasn't a factor: here was the ordinary kid, buckling with a not so ordinary inclination to talk back to genuine terror -- and he was so shown as still so way in need of magical enfranchisement that he wasn't permitted to slump back so, to be put at so much risk of being shown as still basically unenfranchised and naked, despite all these years and years of your the greatest wizard Harry! stuff, the rest of the way on. (Voldemort struck me thereafter as the easy way out.) Someone like her needed a young Snape, not sprouting Harry, to know she was up against something she might not ably be able to ultimately handle.
    It may have even been a significant generational moment, the key test: do these kids have it for reality? Strip away the nonsense and let' s see ... Er, apparently not so much: it'll be fantasy and lies the rest of the way through, then. "You're all young wizards who've now all grown up who'll succeed against apparently insurmountable foes owing to your inner resourcefulness, bravery, and good and true friendships." This is how we'll let you narrate your life; no one will ever tell you different and you'll never know it; but we'll be looking again, next gen, for the real stuff. Without heroes to look to to balk against all that previous generations created and tried thereafter to ground as the rest of the way, it's all either rehash or regress -- one gen depressing trying to make them as much like their ordinary-but-in-their-own-way-noble grandparents as possible.

  • BoBo says:

    Well said, Stephanie.
    The Harry Potter film franchise was (for the most part) placed in the hands of English artists and reflects the elegance & nobility of the English people.
    One also has to credit Rowling, who used her leverage as creator to steer the films away from Hollywood cynicism.

  • harry 3356 says:

    OMG! Steph, can you put more adjectives and adverbs in your writing please??? did you have a bet with another "journalist" to see how often you could go to the dictionary and thesaurus??? too much fluff and puff... simpleton!
    you english are all alike - if it wasn't for us kick-a$$ americans, you would all be speaking german... HA! Stick that in pint and drink it!

    • Your an idiot. says:

      "Harry 3356" Your an idiot.

      "OMG LIKE!! OMG LIKE!!" That's all I can see coming from your comment. Stupid American.

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