Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Guest movie review by @frodofied)

This guest movie review of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two is contributed by Robert Sandy for Hummingbird604.com. Robert Sandy, 41, is a writer and researcher from Chicago. You can follow his tweets at @frodofied.

The task of bringing a beloved, and widely known work of literature to the film screen is fraught, and, in a great many ways the producers of the Harry Potter saga had as much to fear as did Peter Jackson with his triumphant translation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and in some ways, more. Where Jackson’s wider audience had only the hazy memories of an epic read long before, if it had ever been read in its totality at all, the producers of Potter faced, almost literally, the whole world as critics. Not only were the Potter books works of contemporary fiction, they were books engrained into the popular imaginations of an entire generation (one that spanned the various age groups) of devoted readers. Harry Potter was legend both in story, and in fact, almost at his conception and to give him cinematic life must have proved daunting. But if the litmus test for success rests ultimately in emotional resonance than it can be argued quite forcibly that few film franchises in history are equal to the Potter saga.

It is nearly impossible given all of these facts to discuss, or even review, this film on its independent merits, but it is also just as impossible to discuss the series as a unified whole. To the franchise’s detriment the producers decided fairly early on to change directors frequently, and as the mood seemed to suit them, and so the series lacks a narrative and an aesthetic cohesiveness requisite to such a goal, and in this way is less successful than The Lord of the Rings or even the Star Wars films. Yet, unlike those series, the anchor for these films, and most certainly this final installment, has never been the director, the screen-writers, or even the special effects departments, but existed wholly in the too little discussed casting department. No film or film series in recent memory can boast such a stellar and accomplished cast, but all the Maggie Smiths, Robbie Coltranes, Imelda Stauntons and Julie Walters aside it is that trio of actors who have grown up in front of our eyes who have made these films worthy of visit and revisit for the last decade and more. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine our beloved Ron, Hermione or Harry inhabited by any other actor than the three who became them in the end.

Emma Watson, at first halting and awkward, has grown into the luminous emotional center of the films, mirroring the development of her brilliantly realized interpretation of Rowling’s principal Mudblood, Hermione Grainger. Rupert Grint’s stalwart take on the often over-looked member of the Weasley clan gained more muscle with every effort, and, as a result, his finest moments are found in the final installments of the films, his heartbreaking reaction to the death of his brother Fred in the final shows him to be perfectly on par with his young colleagues. And then, of course, there is Harry himself. It is lucky indeed that Daniel Radcliffe was asked to assume the role of the most famous boy in the world at such a tender age, because it allowed him a measure of freedom that might not have been there otherwise. Radcliffe has since proven himself to be a serious and outstanding young actor with a range that reaches far beyond this franchise, and it could be argued that the role of Harry Potter has not allowed him to fully shine. His startling physical resemblance to Rowling’s written character allowed us to forgive him for missing some of the deep emotional notes required of him in the first two films, and after, his talents developing out of pace with his co-stars, Radcliffe found himself replaying the same emotional themes over and over with each outing. It is to Radcliffe’s credit, however, that by the time Harry confronts You-Know-Who in the final scenes of the final film that one knows instinctively, without aid of books or script, that he will kick the ever-loving ass of his dastardly opponent. Indeed, as his companions and the whole of the magical world have grown to trust and believe in Harry Potter, so too have we, rendering Fiennes’ meaty and multi-dimensional take on Voldemort nothing more than a cinematic asterisk.

David Yates, who directed the final four Potter installments, will be remembered forever as the man who tried, and usually succeeded, in forcing the franchise to grow up, and though many have criticized his shadowy color palette and his thematic structure as overly dark, it was to the benefit of both individual film and franchise alike that he did so. Yates chooses to forego traditional narrative structure at all with the final film, assuming anyone who is paying $12 to see this film has done so prior, and so we open with the end of the last film and find Voldemort astride Dumbledore’s grave with Elder Wand in hand and Harry kneeling at a newly erected gravestone that reads simply: Here lies Dobby, A Free Elf. Yates utilizes the death markers effectively, warning us early on of the death and gravity to follow, but it is a promise that seem forgotten soon after. Yates loses artistic sight thereafter, allowing what could have easily been his finest film to be hi-jacked by action and special effects.

Throughout this too short finale one is left grasping for emotional heft, and is too often left with only magical and pyrotechnic bravado. It is in the quieter moments, and often those led by Watson, that the film finds its true heart, but these moments are too few and given too little focus. When Harry tells Hermione that he understands his connection to Voldemort at last, and that he believes that she too has always known the answer to the riddle, the quiet devastation writ large across the face of Watson is proud-making indeed. And in the final, quiet shot of the film proper, as our three heroes stand hand in hand as the camera pulls up and away from the field of victory we see each actor facing the apex of their lives thus far in such different ways, Radcliffe with his stony, determined stare, Watson with her no-doubt real tears and resplendent cocked head and Grint with his eyes closed almost as if he is meditating on the wonder that this project must have represented to his, and all their lives.

None of this is meant to suggest that the final film is lacking in satisfying moments, because they are here in abundance: here is Neville Longbottom bravely (as he is wont to do) confronting the Dark Lord when all others are silent, and Julie Walters’ finally dispatching with the horrid Bellatrix LeStrange to protect her daughter Jennie, and of course the cheer-inducing kiss that we have waited years to witness between Ron and Hermione. But the real and extended sense of loss that permeates the final novel is mostly missing here. The epilogue, again too short, shows, as the final of the book does, our heroes all grown up and with their own children, and allows Radcliffe his most moving and subtle performance opportunity of the last few films, and he both meets and exceeds expectations. His dignified defense and resuscitation of the personal character of Severus Snape, given all that he, and we, now know of the man, brought lumps to the throat and tears to the eyes. But even the beauty here, and that of the very final shot of our adult heroes, is lacking the fully satisfying sense of being the emotional capstone of a perilous and profound journey.

I had hoped, given the magnificence of many of the prior films, that The Deathly Hallows Part Two would truly be the piece de la resistance of the franchise, but it is not, and in its way it has more in common with “The Two Towers” than it does “The Return of the King.”

**** out of five

You can find local showtimes in Vancouver for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 by clicking on this link.

You can check the movie trailer here:

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Comments (2)

DanaJuly 17th, 2011 at 9:08 am

Interesting perspectives…I’m just sad its over

Tobias ReynoldsJuly 18th, 2011 at 5:26 am

100 percent agree…Jennie is spelled Ginny though

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