Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is a war film.
Now some people might cite movies like Lord of the Ring when watching the sweeping battles in the last Harry Potter film, and they would not be entirely wrong. Peter Jackson remains a huge influence on the way we see large fantasy battles. I put forth the idea that Jackson was influenced by Ridley Scott’s epics, but then there are Mr. Scott’s influences and so on. The point is that this movie is fast paced and to me it feels like one of those great WWII movies like Guns of Navarone.
Because I was between formats at the time, I never did a review of Deathly Hallows Part One, but one thing I said after seeing it was that the next half would be a very fast movie. I feel that I should reveal that I have never read the final book in the series, so this was a guess rather than actual knowledge of what was to come. I have read the other six books, although I had seen the first three films before I ever read any of them. So when I say that about my guess, it was without certainty, rather it was based on the build up of the first half and the anticipation what I hoped was to come.
Okay, so the film itself. Director David Yates did an amazing job bringing this series to a close. Although he did not helm the series for the entire time, he came on board for the fifth film (which many consider to be the weakest), Yates really delivered with the excellent Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Part One. Unlike some movies that are split apart, this film really does feel like the second half of one single movie. Whether you like that or not is more of a personal preference than success or failure.
This is one film that really does not need a synopsis. Anyone who has not seen the first seven, all two of you, is unlikely to go see this one. The important part is that most of the characters that we have grown to love and hate return for the finale. Given the war film nature of this there is very little time spent on reflection or slow character studies. In fact there are only two characters in this finale who seem to turn a corner, or at least reveal their true nature to us. The first is Neville Longbottom, who finally comes into his own as a heroic figure, and Severus Snape, who shows his true colors after seven films of flip-flopping. Anyone who has read the books already knows what to expect, but for those of us who have avoided spoilers it is an interesting treat.
Another thing the finale does well is to give the audience reason to question some of Dumbledore’s actions through the series. We realized that he was a puppet master, but only in the end do we get to see how much manipulation he did. To the point that we start to wonder if Harry’s boundless faith is misplaced, a sentiment that Harry never seems to echo. Perhaps that is one of the few weaknesses in this movie, we’ve already seen our hero stand up to evil seven times before. While the stakes have never been quite so high, the real difference between the finale and the prequels is that Harry is not the only person getting messed up. So are we ever in any doubt that he will do the right thing, or the brave thing? No, not really. It really seems like nit picking, but when he steps up in this movie it feels just a little bit old hat.
The supporting cast shines in their last hurrah, but they are underused. The movie was 130 minutes and feels pretty complete, having been split in two, but part of me wondered if it might have been better had there been another five or ten minutes showcasing them. Nothing new from Hermoine or Ron, although near the very end we do see Ron being a little more clever and earning the affection from Hermoine. Given the degree of fan crushes out there (Emma Watson grew up more attractive than the character was supposed to be) he needs a little time to shine so everyone is not questioning how he got her. The core three turn in a solid performance and manage to make the audience care about their struggle.
There are quite a few highlights in Deathly Hallows Part Two. Aside from the great action, which I will discuss in a minute, there are a few small moments that are monumental considering how long we have followed this series. When Harry returns to Hogwarts before the finale and every sees him for the first time, it was a very gripping scene. Also seeing all the familiar faces around the school, staff and students, preparing for battle was a little heart wrenching. People we first saw at age ten or eleven, now grown up into adults or near-adults, essentially going off to war, if you do not feel a little tug then you might want to check to see that you still have a heart.
Okay, so there were a few parts that had been spoiled for me, even though I never read the final book. Because of the spoilers I was expecting a few scenes to be a little more epic than they were in final delivery. So this is sort of warning to those of you who actually read the book, or had someone tell you what you never wanted to know. Minor spoilers follow, but I try to keep them to general knowledge. If you are worried about it then skip the next paragraph.
When Mrs. Weasley faces off against Bellatrix Lestrange, I have had numerous people talk about this scene being awesome in the book. Unfortunately in this film it takes on a sort of footnote status, lasting only a minute or so, and feels hokey for a few reasons. First is that Julie Walters looks more frightened than fierce, which might be more realistic acting but not what I expected from the mama bear scene people mentioned. Second is that their duel itself was poorly done, it could have been more impressively choreographed. The other part was Harry facing off against Voldemort. While the fight itself was cooler, with a few exceptions as mentioned above most of the movie fights are cooler than described in the book, Harry never really delivered his whole speech about how he pitied the bad guy. Maybe they felt it was a bit cliched, and that would be true, but cliches are not necessarily bad. Because of this we never see more of Voldemort and he ends up being just another monster to be beaten.
Okay, so to recap for you, this film feels like a war movie. It starts rolling very fast and there are hardly any parts to catch your breath, or take a bathroom break. The action is fast and impressive, and we jump around during the big battle in a way that I personally enjoyed. However it does fall prey to the problem of many epic finales, it glosses over many of the smaller characters and the fast pace makes it hard to savor the good moments. Basically it is like being forced to eat a huge pile of your favorite foods as fast as you can, you might like it but odds are that you would appreciate a chance to slow down and savor the experience. Luckily there is a pleasant, although somewhat saccharine, denouement where we get to see the fate of the surviving characters nineteen years later. It provided a nice chance to catch my breath and mull over what I just saw before the movie gave me cab fare and kicked me out the door. Overall it is an excellent film and well worth seeing for fans new and old, but a word of warning to newcomers. You will miss a lot if you never saw the previous movies.
Check this out, you will not regret it.