Thursday, 14 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review

Fourteen years ago, JK Rowling released the first book in the saga of boy wizard Harry Potter. Six more novels, three spin-off books, fifteen billion dollars-plus of merchandise, a successful film franchise and a theme park later, the final milestone in the chronicles of Harry Potter is here. As the marketing campaign for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will be quick to remind you: It All Ends.

Has a film ever had such a weight of anticipation laid upon its shoulders? Much like those laid upon Harry himself in this final chapter, the expectations on this concluding segment are almost insurmountable. As the culmination of years and years of build-up, backstory and character development it’s fair to say – this is one of the biggest cinema blockbuster events in history.

Watching the final Harry Potter film, it seems the producers have assessed the magnitude of this closing chapter and understood the importance of getting it right, before setting it all aside and simply making the most spectacular finale they possibly can. Just as each new film in the series has brought a different genre to the fore (from mystery, to thriller, to political drama and road movie) Deathly Hallows Part 2 is an all-out fantasy war film, with all that entails – notably many casualties.

As the second half of the adaptation of the final book, Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up directly where Part 1 left off. Harry, Ron and Hermione have ditched Hogwarts, now under the tyrannous rule of Professor Snape, and have gone in search of the seven Horcruxes – fragments of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul hidden in various objects. All must be destroyed if He Who Shall Not Be Named is to be defeated. However, what these particular objects are and where they’re hidden is unknown. Meanwhile Voldemort’s army is amassing, ready to seize Hogwarts in a full-on battle that will inevitably lead to the final showdown between the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived. If that wasn’t enough, Harry’s also keeping his eyes peeled for the three mythical Deathly Hallows, said to render the owner ‘Master of Death’. Are the Hallows real? And if so, how can Harry possibly find them?

If the majority of that previous paragraph left you feeling like a Muggle lost in the middle of Diagon Alley, then you’d better brush up on your Potter-lore before apparating your way into the cinema. By this point, it’s assumed that you’re either in or you’re out – even for those who might have forgotten a few of the finer details of Deathly Hallows Part 1, a catch-up DVD session is recommended. Part 2 wastes none of its running time in re-acquainting the audience with the wizarding world before heading straight from a muted few minutes of reflection at Shell Cottage to a magnificent break-in at Gringotts bank.

In terms of spectacle, Deathly Hallows Part 2 delivers all of the action beats that audiences have been waiting for. Since Order of the Phoenix, the promise of no-holds-barred wizard duelling has been teased, and when the Battle of Hogwarts comes around it is genuinely stunning. The special effects are absolutely magnificent. As spells are cast back and forth, the universe feels real, inclusive and natural, whilst still being visually striking. The battle is on an absolutely epic scale with Giants, Acromantula and Dementors also entering the fray. Also brilliant is the sequence in Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringotts vault, where every valuable object touched immediately explodes into multiple identical copies of itself.

However, all of the flashy style would mean nothing if the characters weren’t ones you root for desperately – this is, after all, no Transformers 3. Over the course of the series, the relationship built between the audience and these now iconic characters is such that the sense of finality in Death Hallows Part 2 brings an emotional load to Harry Potter like no other instalment before it. You’ll marvel as you finally see Mrs McGonagall finally display her considerable magical talents, cheer as Mrs Weasley gets her Ripley-in-Aliens moment, and no doubt you’ll shed a tear as a few well-loved faces meet an unfortunate end. The sequence which at last clarifies Snape’s allegiances, one of the stand-out moments of the books, is beautiful here and without doubt the most tear-jerking few minutes of the entire saga. Alan Rickman’s performance is superlative as ever, and this swansong of his character is simply magnificent. When the climactic showdown between Harry and Voldemort comes around, it doesn’t disappoint, and that’s due as much to the emotional build-up as the waving of wands.

Inevitably, moments from the book are missed out, and in order to find a through line in Rowling’s lengthy tome the narrative predominantly follows Harry. You wouldn’t say this about many other Potter films, but at times there’s a feeling that Deathly Hallows Part 2 could have been a little longer, and the battle might have benefitted slightly from taking more time to show the duelling between other wizards in Hogwarts rather than mainly following the titular character. The plot also at times suffers from having too many MacGuffins, and ironically the Hallows themselves are sidelined in the wider scheme of searching for, and destroying, the Horcruxes.

Like the book it’s adapted from, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 isn’t perfect. However, it is a rousing, thrilling and emotional farewell to a generational icon and without a doubt one of the very best films in the series. Over the past four films, director David Yates has successfully concluded a magnificent fantasy epic that lives up to, without surpassing, JK Rowling’s novels. The final scene, an opinion-splitter which actually works much better on film, provides closure on this integral part of the childhoods of many; for those who grew up with the series, the tale of Harry Potter is over and is ready to be passed onto a new generation. Throughout the eight films, the Harry Potter series will crucially be remembered as one which never forgot about thing in particular: the sheer joyous, childlike wonder and spectacle of magic.

Entertainment Value: 4/5
Genre Value: 4.5/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5