Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 [Review]

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first released upon audiences in 2001, some four years after the book was published. Now, ten years later, the series has finally come to a close - with the screen adaptation of a book (or half a book) that is also, fittingly, four years old. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 has been the centre of a media circus for months now, with all the talk raging around the actors and actresses and how they feel about the saga ending; what they will do now and where they will go. And yes, while it's all very sad for the cast and crew to have to leave the cosy home of Leavesden Studios and brave the big wide world all over again, the final Potter film means a lot more than that to a different group of people.

I am of course talking about the audience; from those who camped for three days straight in Trafalgar Square for (probably) the very last time you'll see Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson walking down the red carpet together, to those who simply cosied up with a book every night and eagerly anticipated each new release, a generation of fans have grown up with the boy wizard. To see it come to an end meant no disservice could be done to the series - one of the primary decisions behind splitting the seventh book into two parts. A lot rests, then, on this film. Part 1 was released to widespread critical acclaim, after the misery that was Half-Blood Prince, and a steady stream of trailers have built up a solid base of hope that director David Yates will deliver. And deliver he has.

From the opening scenes at Shell Cottage right through to the final, inevitable battle between Harry and Voldemort, Part 2 is a whirlwind ride of magic and mystery that doesn't give you a second to breathe. Unlike Part 1, however, this feels less like a montage of disjointed events and more like a fluid, fluent piece of art. Breathtaking CGI and action sequences collide with gut-wrenching emotional jaunts; if you've been following the series all the way through, you'll be lucky to leave the cinema without shedding a tear (manly or otherwise). These are the characters we've spent the last decade getting to know; the characters we've seen blossom from quivering, pyjama-clad eleven year-olds into mighty, fearless warriors (here's looking at you, Neville Longbottom). To see them taken away from us is disturbingly upsetting, particularly as we're talking about fictional characters here. But that's just testament to the strength of the storytelling, and indeed, the integrity of the transition from book to film.

Part 2 begins with a daring raid on Gringotts Bank in search of another Horcrux, one of the elements of Voldemort's soul that must be destroyed in order to finally defeat the Dark Lord. One treacherous goblin and a dragon ride over London later, and it's off to Hogwarts for one of the greatest battles in cinematic history. Fire, brimstone and ash dart maniacally around dozens of Death Eaters, students, teachers, giants; even the giant spiders are back for one last attempt to eat anything in their way. Alongside this, of course, is the continued search for said Horcruxes, the remainder of which, inevitably, lie in the school itself. Harry's quest is satisfying - staying remarkably true to the book, quieter moments intersect with the constant attack on the senses of the battle itself. But still there is no sign of things slowing down, as the plot moves at a remarkable pace. Unlike the earlier books where secondary plot points could be omitted, most everything in Deathly Hallows is crucial to the story - and thus most everything has been replicated in visual form here to some extent, perhaps excusing the rapid speed at which the film travels. At just over two hours, though, this is in fact the shortest of the Potter outings - and it's worth wondering whether an extra ten minutes or so might have helped to calm things down.

But then that might have been missing the point. The battle of Hogwarts is an incredibly climactic point of the novel, and it seems Yates has attempted to replicate this on screen, with mostly success. While the ultimate climax doesn't follow the book word for word, it's satisfying enough to please fans, if actually slightly anticlimactic in execution. Similarly, key character deaths are glossed over fleetingly in places. While still emotional, one can't help but think they could easily have been done better with thirty seconds more screen time. Luckily, such emotions are enhanced by the actors - and what fine actors they are.

Since the first Potter film, the three main stars - Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) - have come a long way. Part 1 alone is proof enough of that; Part 2 only exemplifies matters. Finally the kids get a chance to shine (it's just a shame they had to wait until they were adults). But the unexpected star of the show is none other than seasoned villain Alan Rickman, once again resuming his role as the most complex character of the lot, Severus Snape. Now Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Snape spreads tyranny amongst the youngsters with the help of a couple of Death Eaters. But as his story unfolds throughout the film, we witness truly the motives and background of one of the greatest fictional characters of all time; yet no other actor could have displayed more testament to his prowess. If the rest of it left you brazenly unflinching, prepare to break out the tissues for The Prince's Tale.

A superb supporting cast return from the various films throughout the series; Emma Thompson as Sybill Trelawney and Jim Broadbent as potions master Horace Slughorn are both present and correct, as is Maggie Smith, reprising her role as Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. In a further surprising turn, Smith's boldness shines through in McGonagall, unrelenting and unwavering, while Ralph Fiennes continues to terrorise as big bad Voldemort, consistently proving his eagerness for the role. It’s been a long time coming that I can say a Harry Potter film has next to no evidence of poor acting - Yates must have stumbled upon his own batch of Felix Felicis during filming.

It’s a satisfying end to the series; breathtaking and unyielding, a visceral and visual assault on the senses, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 leaves us shattered, with a Potter-shaped void somewhere in the depths of our now cold, brazen hearts. A truly defining moment of an entire generation; $6 billion, 10 years and 8 films later, and finally we wave goodbye to Harry Potter.

And what a journey it’s been.

See also: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Dir: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes
Warner Bros Pictures, 130 mins, 15/07/11

Synopsis: The final chapter of Harry Potter is upon us, complete with deadly duels, a full scale battle, dragons, swords and more, as the three leads continue their quest to find and destroy Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes... 


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