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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

| July 16, 2011 | 0 Comments

There is a tiny moment deep into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2  that passes quickly but stands for a lot.  Harry Potter, now grown to manhood and sporting stubble, is visited by the ghostly apparition of his avuncular former mentor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) who looks at his pupil with caring eyes and addresses him: “Harry, you wonderful boy . . . you brave, brave  man.”   Man  is the key word.  In ten years, ever since we first met Harry in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we saw a wonderful, fresh-faced little boy become a man of wisdom, of strength, of caution, of maturity and of leadership.  This is a character we’ve grown up with over ten years and now we are watching him go on to his destiny and onward to an uncertain future.

What is most refreshing about this closing chapter is that, after seven previous adventures, it is refreshing to have a hero whose mind, heart and soul are conditioned by the lessons he has learned, and not by the body count at this feet.  Death is a major factor in this concluding episode of the worldwide hit, there are many deaths, but the question looming over this chapter is whether Harry will become one of them.  There isn’t a conclusive answer to that question because the ending that Rowling came up with (assuming you haven’t read the book) is both baffling and fascinating at the same time.  That, in essence, has been the continuing factor of this series all along and part of the reason that we have kept coming back.  Rowling gift is that she has such a surprising sense of imagination that we don’t know what she will come up with next.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2  picks up immediately where it’s predecessor left off, with Harry (Daniel Radcliff) and pals Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) seeking objects known as Horcruxes, ordinary objects that contains torn off pieces of the soul of the evil snake-faced Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).  By this point (forgive me if my count is off) there are four that remain and Harry discovers that one of them is locked away somewhere at Hogwarts school, which was absent in the last film but occupies 90% of this one.  As Harry returns, students and teachers at Hogwarts batten down the hatches for a massive battle with Voldemort and his minions.

What is special about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2  is that it is more than just a door-closer, more than just a vessel to tie up loose ends.  There is a lot at stake here, not the least of which is the fact that Harry must take the final steps of his journey alone.  What is interesting here is that, whereas the previous installment pushed aside most of the supporting cast, this one brings them all onstage for the final showdown – everyone gets their little moment.  Yet, the story still remains focused squarely on Harry.  This is his big moment and we see that that overly protected little tyke of 10 years ago is now a man battling the most evil being in the land single-handedly.  That battle would be nothing without a performance we can believe in and Daniel Radcliff, who has seemed distant from the material in some of the previous movies (at his worst he seemed to simply be going through the motions), finds an intense foothold on the character that lends it gravity and weight.

The movie doesn’t have the overriding sense of dread that Part 1  did (that film was much better), it replaces quiet atmosphere with breathless action scenes.  In fact, after Harry returns to Hogwarts, the movie is one action scene after another.  That’s both a blessing and a curse.  There are action scenes here are hit home with striking originality, such as an early scene in which Harry and friends must break into the goblin-run Gringott’s Bank to steal an object from the vault of witchy-woman Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter).  I like the action scenes in these movies because they always have a spark of originality, but if there is a weakness in this last chapter, it is the feeling that the movie is rushing things.  We get to the final moments with Voldemort rather quickly, a little too  quickly I think.  This is the shortest film in the series and there is a lot of information to be imparted to the audience including the legacy of Harry’s parents, the truth about Professor Snape, the mysterious machinations behind the death of Dumbledore and the steps that Harry must take to fulfill his destiny.  It is a lot to take in and I think the pacing of the previous installment was better at allowing us to get involved rather then join the film on visceral level.

What the movie does  have is a lot of great technical expertise.  The new additions to the score by Alexandre Desplat add a funerary tone to the proceedings.  They don’t just tone with ominous dread but creep under certain scenes and give them gravity and weight and emotion, most especially in the scenes where the full story of Professor Severus Snape finally surfaces.  The set designs by Stuart Craig are mostly made up of rubble and debris, but as Hogwarts crumbles around hero and villain, we are reminded that Hogwarts is one of those great movies spaces that occupies our collective memories as vividly as The Death Star or Tara, Gotham City or The Bates Motel or The Emerald City.  It isn’t just a set, it is a place that comfortably occupies our imaginations.  We care  about the things that go on there.

Harry Potter is a series that – both on screen and on the page – was never content to remain as it was in the beginning.  Like Harry, this is a series that has grown and matured.  Deathly Hallows Part 2  is violent but not bloody and scary but not traumatizing.  It is a polar contrast to the innocence of Sorcerer’s Stone with its talking portraits and Quidditch matches (just to hammer that point home, the Quidditch field itself meets a fiery end).

It was a wise decision to split this concluding chapter into two parts.  The first part made good use of ominous silences and the spaces between the action where we could get inside Harry’s feelings of dread.  This second part is just the opposite, there are few moments of quiet introspection (save for that moment with Dumbledore) and, in fact, this is one long action scene.  Is it the perfect sendoff?  It isn’t as spectacular as it could have been, but I must say that I was surprised at how much this movie was able to cover in two hours and ten minutes.  When we get to the concluding scenes, it feels like a fitting farewell.  The door closes on one of the most original and creative enterprises that any author has ever put to paper.  There’s a feeling of saying goodbye but an even greater feeling of what is to come.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.