When I say I wanted more from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it’s meant both as praise and criticism. More, because some of the film’s visual wizardry is so sensational I could have watched it until my eyes dried up. And more, sadly, because some of the other parts just aren’t that good.
Putting the stopper in the Harry Potter series was never going to be easy. A story that’s been ten years in the telling on page and screen, this final instalment was under considerably more pressure than its predecessors to provide spectacle and resolution, both of which it does, at times magnificently.
Where it falters, however, is in some of the highly charged emotional scenes, where the speeches and performances don’t always sit on the right side of mawkish. This, of all eight films in the series, places much of its dense emotional weight squarely on Daniel Radcliffe’s shoulders, which, unfortunately, don’t quite seem to be able to bear the load.
In the first six films, he starred opposite a best of British Potter cast, boasting the likes of Gambon, Fiennes, Rickman, and Oldman. This worked as something of a magic mirror for the younger actors, reflecting well on all. In parts one and two of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, however, with Radcliffe increasingly left alone to carry heavy-duty scenes and speeches, the reflection we’re left with isn’t quite as flattering.
That said, the spectacle here is staggeringly well done, if a little frustrating for coming in fits and starts around the lead’s emotional trek into death and back again.
When the long-anticipated battle of Hogwarts erupts, there comes bravura moment after bravura moment from the visual effects and design teams. It’s just a shame we have our attention so frequently diverted away, instead of getting stuck in to the action for so much of it.
Though no one sequence stands out in the same way as did Part 1‘s animated three brothers tale (an artfully atmospheric lantern silhouette segment telling the story of the titular Deathly Hallows), Part 2 does have many, many impressive kinetic set pieces.
There’s a fantastic CGI dragon (the best you’ll see this year, and probably for a good while after) careening weightily over the London skyline, hefty statues stamping into life, enchantments and curses being sent whomping and fizzing around the sets, and a magical, jellyfish-like protective shield rippling and flexing around the castle grounds.
The action is to be applauded as everything you could ask it to be: sleek, fast and exciting, especially in scenes showing the flight of a couple locked in combat zooming around the castle, or a trio on broomsticks pursued by Fiendfyre. In small moments such as this, the film is simply stunning. There’s no other word for it.
It’s no doubt due to the strength of these moments that makes it something of a frustration when our attention is snatched away from whizz-bang fighting, and made to follow Harry off in search of a magical doodad or heartbreaking revelation about a former adversary.
Integral to the Horcrux story, director David Yates had no choice but to chop up his action with these quiet, Harry-led interludes. It’s just a shame for the film that the lead’s performance isn’t quite as accomplished as its visual feats.
I’ll say now that the 3D wasn’t overplayed either. The talented David Yates, as we suspected he might, resisted any urge to have wands jutting out in the audience’s faces every five minutes. You might question the logic of converting a film with such a sombre palette into 3D, but a colour-saturated childhood flashback sequence and some mightily impressive cursed fire came across a treat.
Some will, no doubt, enjoy the extra dimension (just as Warner Bros will, no doubt, enjoy the extra moolah it generates), but I wouldn’t have thought you’d be missing out should you prompt to go for a glasses-free 2D screening. If you can find one, that is.
The story, then. Without revealing too much, it’s safe to say that the Hogwarts of the two Deathly Hallows films is a very different place from the site of childish rivalries and comedy curses with which Chris Columbus began the series. Instead of gaily tripping through the courtyard with Quidditch and chocolate frogs on their minds, the students are now being marched around their dismal surroundings in formation under the watchful eyes (do Dementors have eyes?) of Dementors and Death Eaters.
Eduardo Serra, director of photography on these last two pictures, renders the once jolly castle in austere greys and muted tones, splashing the screen with danger red when battle commences. It’s a fitting war palette for the war film of the series.
It’s no real disservice to Part 2 to say it doesn’t quite capture the scale of battle achieved in, say, Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, despite hitting a few of the same marks. A fluid tracking shot following Harry, Ron and Hermione across the battlefield is used to good effect, as are shots of the teaming hordes of baddies congregating on a rocky outcrop and a fairly special bridge collapse.
Picking up where Part 1 left off, Part 2 opens with the adventure magnet trio recovering at Shell Cottage, before taking the next step in their plan to defeat Voldemort. Unlike the exciting broomstick flight opening to Part 1, this time around, things are much quieter and more contemplative. Yates and Rowling wisely sent the Dursleys packing early on in the last film, so there’s no room for the seventies sitcom farce which opened the first three instalments.
In fact, there’s little room for comedy at all in this one. Former jesters Fred and George don’t have a lot to smile about, and erstwhile face puller Ron grew out of screaming like a girl a couple of films back. Neville gets a couple of smart lines, and caretaker Filch is still camping around in the background. But on the whole, the tone’s fraught and, if you’ll excuse the pun, deathly serious.
Back to the plot. Harry is jogged along by helpful visions revealing the whereabouts and mood of his opponent, as well as hints as to where to head next. In these acid flashback-style visions, Fiennes displays a nuanced Voldemort, evil to the core, but increasingly aware of his vulnerability. It’s comfortably his best performance in the series.
Where the Horcrux hunters do head next, disguises in place, is to wizarding bank, Gringotts, the site of a log flume ride and eventful exit. Then it’s to Hogwarts in search of more evil artefacts and the small matter of a battle between Dumbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters.
On the cards for Potter and co. in the last hour of the hundred and thirty minute film is a pretty packed sixty minutes of love, death, sacrifice and staring meaningfully into the middle distance.
Niggles about the stop-start nature of the battle aside, we’re certainly treated to a couple of ‘punch the air’ moments. Since we’re strictly spoiler-free round these parts, I’ll say just this to reassure book fans, both Molly and Neville get their moments, and what moments they are.
Overall, fans of Rowling’s books shouldn’t be at all disappointed with the fidelity director Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have shown to the source material. The deaths, sadly, but inevitably, remain, and the story only veers from Rowling’s template via a couple of necessary omissions and some sensible, minor tweaks in location and chronology.
Speaking of location,we revisit a number of Stuart Craig’s impressive stage designs from the previous films, as well as seeing a brand new boathouse set, which serves as the backdrop to a key scene between Lord Voldemort and loyal servant, Professor Snape.
So, to Snape, that mystery, wrapped in a cloak, inside an enigma. This time around, we finally get to see a little of what lies beneath that expression of supercilious contempt, and it’s a joy to watch. Alan Rickman has slowly over enunciated his way through eight memorable and impenetrable performances as Severus Snape, but this is the one he’ll be remembered for. That’s all we’re saying for now.
If you needed proof that the days when Harry Potter films used to end with a big knees-up in the Great Hall, and Dumbledore lavished house points on the assembled students are well and truly over, this ending is the one to do it. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 concludes with a flurry of closing moments that reach for poignancy, but achieve an odd combination of feeling both interminable and strangely rushed.
A film with capital letter emotions, but sometimes lacking the performance power to pull them off, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows seizes every opportunity to stun visually, and will most likely do very, very well. It’s very good, too. But I still wanted just a little bit more.