Whether you love it or hate it, the Harry Potter series has to be heralded as one of the most ambitious and groundbreaking cinematic achievements in modern history. To maintain such a towering level of quality and continuity over a decade via eight vastly entertaining films, all colossal productions, through the vision of four directors, and with one of the most impressive casts ever assembled is undoubtedly monumental. And this weekend, after 10 years, seven movies and more than $6 billion in ticket sales, it all ends with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. To say that this outstanding movie caps off the series on a euphoric note would be shortchanging it. Emphatically engaging, exciting and emotional, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a splendidly acted and masterfully produced series capper that’ll leave fans overjoyed and teary-eyed. Though I still have a soft spot for Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful third entry Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, time will probably steer me to consider this last film the best film in the series. Even J.K. Rowling couldn’t have imagined a more magical finale.
Even if a plot summary is trivial at this point since just about everyone who watches this last installment will have had watched at least four films in the series, I’ll reiterate it for the sake of tradition. At the end of Part 1, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) have managed to find and destroy one of the last three Horcuxes of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), bewitched devices containing fragments of his soul. Unfortunately, Voldemort is alerted of their plans after they narrowly escape death at the hands of his accomplice Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) at Malfoy mansion.
Part 2 opens with the same shot that closed the last film with Voldemort defiling the coffin of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to possess the all-powerful Elder Wand (one of the three eponymous Deathly Hallows – the other two being an invisibility cloak and the resurrecting stone). With Voldemort now seemingly invincible and out to kill Harry, time is running out for the trio who embark on a daring heist at Gringots to find the next Horcrux. This dazzling sequence which contains a chase reminiscent of the coal mine chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is only the first of at least 10 action and effects-driven set pieces that are interspersed through this action-heavy film.
With Hogwarts being the resting place of the final Horcrux, Harry and company travel back to their school which is now a shell of its former self under the tutelage of Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and the Death Eaters. However, after the Order of the Phoenix once again retake the school, Voldemort and his Death Eaters descend upon the school grounds for a final showdown between good and evil, the finale of which is the moment the entire series has been building towards – the battle between Harry and Voldemort. And trust me when I say it’s worth the wait!
In my review of Deathly Hallows Part 1, I remarked that as much as I liked the film, I couldn’t give it a full endorsement because it was a two-and-a-half-hour setup for a movie more than nine months away instead of an independent entry like the previous films. Yes, I get that it’s called Part 1 for a reason but unlike the Lord of the Rings films, it didn’t have a satisfactory finale or action sequence at the end. Instead, it was like the Kill Bill films – split because of the length. Having read the books, I realize that it was a necessary evil since cramping all the material of the final book into one film would have been unfeasible. Still, I bemoaned the anti-climactic end as a film reviewer. Now after watching Part 2, my appreciation for its predecessor has been greatly expanded since all the character development in the first film that I criticized for being slow works in the favor of Part 2 as Yates and Kloves are freed to get to the nit-gritty of the action in this one. If you’re a fan of the series, I highly recommend watching Part 1 before Part 2 to get the full experience of Deathly Hallows because it bolstered my experience immensely.
Like its predecessor Deathly Hallows Part 2 is an atmospheric film that features more than its share of gloomy, bloody, disturbing, intense scenes. In fact, it’s darker than all the other PG-13 rated blockbusters that have been released so far this year, save for perhaps X-Men: First Class which still has the year’s most creative death scene. So be warned, this isn’t a kiddie pic. Like the Lord of the Rings films, this series has matured into a saga about power, corruption, friendship and responsibility. There are still moments of humor peppered here and there but they’re few and far between. Yates, who didn’t have much experience with theatrical films before helming the fifth and sixth films visibly struggled at first (especially with the bloated Half-Blood Prince). But his mistakes on that sixth film may have been the best thing to happen to him as they allowed him to perfect his art for the atmospheric and thrilling two-part finale. With four out of the eight films under his belt, this is his series as much as Kloves who as screenwriter on all but one film has been the principal architect of the franchise.
One of the primary joys of the Harry Potter series has been watching the leads mature as characters, as well as actors over the years. The fact that the producers managed to not only hold on to the trio but the entire damn cast of many of England’s most renowned and award-winning actors, save for one (Richard Harris who played Dumbledore in the first two films passed away in 2002) is nothing short of a miracle. As in most of the Potter films, the acting is uniformly excellent but like Part 1, this film is Radcliffe’s show and he’s a revelation. We’ve watched this guy mature from an 11-year-old kid amateur to full-grown thespian over the last decade and it’s a fascinating transformation. Though he’ll be forever associated with this role, his strength and emotional conviction as Harry led me to believe that it won’t be the end of the line for him. As always, the magnificent Fiennes once again delivers exceptional work as Voldemort (even if he has to hiss most of his lines) while Rickman, the unsung character actor of this franchise, finally gets his due.
On the technical end, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is top notch. Academy Award-winner Stuart Craig’s magnificent production design will almost guarantee him another nomination while cinematographer Eduardo Serna’s gorgeous cinematography should find see him in the run for a cinematography nod. The effects work is by-far the best in the series and composer Alexandre Desplat beautiful score only enhances the captivating mood of the finale.
3-D: Unlike Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Deathly Hallows Part 2 isn’t essential 3-D viewing material. The dark cinematography of the film and the fast paced action isn’t perfectly suited for the medium that works best for colorful films.