Dave Yates takes the reins for the final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise (at least in this guise, who knows what the future may bring?), Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows and makes sure it goes out with a bang, for if Part 1 suffered from being a slow pot boiling character study of loneliness and resolution, Part 2 is non-stop action pretty much from the go get, and when seen in conjunction with the latter half, makes a very cohesive whole that rounds everything up in a nice caldron full of empathy. Over the eight films we have watched the young orphan Harry discover he’s a wizard, enroll in Hogwarts and battle He Who Should Not Be Named in his various incarnations all the while making and breaking friendships; and like the novels the films have matured over time – the very best taking the original writings as a base and making a fantasy film around them (Prisoner of Askaban), rather than slavishly following the written word (Philosophers Stone). Yates having proved he can make the former (Order of the Phoenix), stumbled with Year Six but has come back very strong with these final films. The commercial decision to split the finale into two films may have harmed the first in that not a lot really happens, but it does mean that the latter half is purely concerned with the action and final confrontation which allows the series to come to a rip roaring conclusion. As with all the films there are still major elements missing and plenty of alterations to make for a smoother filmic narrative and once again (with one possible exception, which I’ll go into later) Yates makes all the right choices to put the film first and creates a fantasy, steeped with empathy and emotion which is a worthy closing chapter. Let us, then, take one final look into the wizarding world with tonight’s feature: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (in 3D).
Thunder cracks, Dumbledore’s sarcophagus splits apart, Voldamort takes the Elder wand and shoots the sky; Dobby’s grave comes into view on a windswept beach – so starts the final, final chapter directly from the conclusion of Part 1. Yates wastes no time in diving into the action; after a brief interrogation of Griphook about the contents of Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts, our intrepid trio are convinced that a horcrux is hidden within and hatch a plan to infiltrate and steal the item. Griphook is once again played by Warwick Davis who, since playing a parody of himself in the TV comedy series Life’s Too Short (which has a very ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ vibe) has become increasingly difficult to take seriously, plays the goblin with a simmering menace and I particularly liked the delivery of his lines when he named the price for soliciting his help. A quick swig of polyjuice potion sees Hermione transformed into Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter. I mention this because Bonham Carter does an incredibly convincing turn acting as Emma Watson, right down to the walk and facial tics. Of course things don’t quite go according to plan, whilst the three do manage to obtain the horcrux they have to improvise an escape by piggy backing on the dragon that guards the vaults - in what is a terrific little change to the book, it is Hermione, normally the level headed of the three, that comes up with the escape plan, showing how she has had to adapt to a foreign situation, rather than Harry (as in the book) whose foolhardy plans they always end up following.
Once completed it’s off to Hogwarts to gather and destroy the remaining horcruxes, though things are nearly halted before they start because when the three apparate into Hogsmeade the alarms go off and Death Eaters appear; it is only a timely intervention by Aberforth (Dumbledore’s brother) that saves them. The following scene should have been used to explain away Dumbledore’s erratic behaviour and smear stories that appears in Part 1, but due to pacing issues (according to the extras) it was cut and reshot for a greater dynamic and pace - but at the expense of exposition, back-story and the significance of Ariana (Dumbledore’s younger sister) and thus the Deathly Hallows – so whilst the film never dwelt on Harry’s shaken faith in his former headmaster, preferring to keep it resolute, this would have gone someway to explaining away why, in Part 1, the trio, and in particular Harry, where quite so lost. Perhaps the Ultimate edition will readdress the balance at a later date. Nevertheless we are quickly drawn back into battle as Neville (Longbottom) smuggles our heroes into Hogwarts and the Dark Lord descends for the final confrontation.
There are some magnificent scenes that follow; Harry’s confrontation with Snape and the subsequent duel between Snape and McGonagall, McGonagall’s calling of the defence of Hogwarts by bringing the statues to life – her rallying call is chilling – the destruction of the protective barrier, the sheer bloodshed and spectacle of wizard against wizard and, of course, the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. But, I think, my favourite would have to be Snape’s memories which reveal to Harry (and the audience) his true motivations for the past seven years; whilst not quite as deep and meaningful as is revealed in the book, it is nevertheless a scene that is both heart-warming and chilling at the same time as you come to understand just what this man has done and achieved and how he has suffered for it all – it is a testament to Alan Rickman’s performance throughout the years that once this scene plays out all of his motivation can be seen, right back to film one; Rickman was a scene stealer right from the off and here he rightly gets the full redemption he so richly deserves. One scene that I didn’t think worked quite so well was Neville’s defiance and ‘William Wallace’ moment; don’t get me wrong it was a great scene in that it emoted well and gave the resolution needed to rally the good side, but Matthew Lewis just didn’t quite have the presence to pull it off – nice as it was to see him have his moment to shine, I thought his stand off against Harry in film one seemed more natural. However, everyone who was anyone in the film series gets a look in at the final battle, names and faces that have become very familiar over the eight films, all show up at some point, even if it is simply one scene – and it's great to see so many returning, not only because it adds to swell the numbers but it brings to a close all that has come before.
But what of the dark side? The Malfoy’s are back, but this time Draco is trapped inside as the Voldemort’s army attacks and there really was nothing made of the dissention in the ranks that this caused between his parents and the Dark Lord; indeed you only gain a slight recognition when they call Draco in the end standoff and quietly slip away. Bellatrix Lestrange returns on frightening form and was responsible for a huge number of deaths in the final battle, indeed it was her that killed Fred Weasley (though we don’t see this, it's inferred by Molly’s redemption scream (and near best line of the film) and their subsequent furious duel). In the books she was the last Death Eater standing next to Voldemort; but the film alters this for a more dramatic battle between Harry and Voldemort, though she gets a fitting send off in the above mentioned duel. Amycus and Alecto Carrow, who were particularly cruel and vicious teachers put in place by Snape at Hogwarts are given barely a mention, so much so I felt it was an added line to appease fans of the book! Then, of course, we come to Voldemort himself; once again played by Ralph Fiennes who, in previous films, has had plenty of seething menace, but has seldom been little more than an apparition; an all powerful ‘devil’ that all fear, for sure, but he’s had very little to actually do. In this final chapter, with the horcruxes being destroyed, Fiennes gets to imbue his character with something other than menace – fear, loathing, gloating and anger are just some of the emotions that he goes through as the once all powerful Lord starts to crumble as his grand plan starts to unravel.
Though not strictly speaking a character, I have to mention Alexandre Desplat’s quite astonishing score for this film. He barely uses the ‘Harry Potter theme’ (or Hedwig's Theme as it’s also known) that John Williams wrote and has been a staple for the beginning of each successive film since the first, but when he does it comes across as something more powerful – it is a battle march, a call to arms and something to be feared. In taking cues from other epic battles, Desplat makes liberal use of the heavy brass, drums and strings while high choral notes advance the melody, it pitches the music at the right level to engross the battle scenes with filmic splendour. Even his lighter moments are tinged with that epic feel that swells the visuals to magnificent splendour. The music in the Harry Potter series has always been used to decent effect, but here, Desplat, really out does himself in completing a body of work that is both recognisable and unique, rousing and melancholy.
But what of the film as a whole? Well, as already alluded to it is really one long action piece with our intrepid heroes going from one set piece to another. But the way Yates paces the film and with his filleting of the source the pace is very high; as written this final chapter takes place over one day; the film tries to emulate this by its furious pace – for the most part this works fine, but where things do run thin, i.e. strained plot points or unanswered questions, a minute or two here or there could have helped to alleviate this. I’ve mentioned Dumbledore’s lack of motivation. But similar criticism could be levelled at the whole Deathly Hallows and their significance. Indeed the whole ‘love as a shield’ plot that enabled Harry’s survival in the first place, and was put in place after his sacrifice, was never even mentioned. But perhaps my biggest gripe, and the point I mentioned earlier, was the treatment of Kreacher. In the books he has a major plot point that details his behaviour; in fact his presence was a turning point both in the discovery and revelation of the horcruxes and the final battle! This made for a ‘wow’ moment and goes a long way to answer his redemption and place him along side Dobby as a good elf. It’s probably just me, but I was expecting something along those lines in these last two films the revelation in the books was of such significance; sadly this was not the case and Kreacher’s return to turn the tide of battle was sadly not part of the film. In fact little was made of any of the magical creatures - Voldemort was seen to command giants, but where were the centaurs? And although it was wonderful to see so many faces return to fight for Hogworts, couldn't a little bit more be made of them, Trrewlaney, throwing her magic balls on people’s heads, or Sprout using her plants to bring down the enemy?
These changes notwithstanding Yates has managed to once again make a very fine film that captures the essence of the book and maintains enough of the narrative to make it seem like there is very little missing (indeed there is very little missing and most of the changes made, aside from those I’ve mentioned, improve upon the flow of the film). What I did feel was that this film elevated Part 1 and as such both should be watched back to back, or at the very least on consecutive nights, as together they work far, far better than they do apart. However, as an individual movie this one also works far better than Part 1; it has a better opening and, of course, it ends properly (and powerfully, and, if I’m honest, in a lovely fashion) with that epilogue scene (straight out of the book) that brings the entire franchise full circle. It doesn’t quite manage to transcend to the ‘great’ Harry Potter films, though it is a good film in its own right; as an order of preference, for me I’d go films: 3, 5, 4, 7.2, 1, 2, 7.1, 6 – but don’t go watching them in that order! I wonder what the future will bring? Harry Potter comes to a fitting conclusion, but will it be the last we see of him ...?
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