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