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“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” – Review

HollywoodNews.com: There’s a palpable sense of finality in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” and it’s not just because it’s the last film in the series. From start to finish, it’s virtually all resolution, catharsis, or some kind of closure, and “the end” hangs heavy in the air no matter how casual or even comedic the proceedings are meant to be. But with virtually no real heirs to the success and longevity of this series, the final installment of the “Harry Potter” saga is a film that’s almost more sad to watch because of its significance than its story, because it offers a necessary reminder of the beautiful connection series achieve not just over multiple chapters but through characters their audience grow to know, love, and when they’re gone, genuinely miss.

The plot details are of such enormous significance that they’re almost irrelevant. The bottom line is that a battle between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has been a long time coming, and its outcome may determine the fate of Hogwarts, if not the world at large as we know it. After undertaking Harry’s quest to find the Horcruxes which hold the key to Voldemort’s power, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) join the fray to protect Hogwarts and its students from the attacking forces of Voldemort’s evil armies. In the meantime, the destinies of Harry’s friends, teachers and classmates are revealed as they join the epic showdown, and are themselves forced to decide whether his life is worth more than any other’s, much less their own.

Although I saw this film’s immediate predecessor, I am largely unfamiliar with the mythology and lore of the “Harry Potter” world, which was absolutely a detriment to my appreciation of many of the film’s subtleties. (Thankfully, the capacity crowd at a midnight screening on opening day reacted with the appropriate awe to keep me abreast of the most significant emotional payoffs.) Interestingly, however, the only thing one really needs to know in order to enjoy the film is who the main characters are and how they behave. For eight films, Harry has been shuttled through a gauntlet of expectations based on the proclamation that he is important; Hermione is the most astute and intelligent of the three, but occasionally gets flustered when put in a tough situation; and Ron has dutifully played sidekick for years while pining for Hermione, but he is finally coming into his own. These details and a little empathy provide more than enough of a foundation to become invested in what happens, even if you’re not going to be sniffling through the film alongside your neighbor in the Gryffindor tie and knee socks.

Technically, the film solved some of the problems of its predecessor but picked up others. Where “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” featured a lot of scenes in which Harry and co. sat around in different locales waiting and hiding, “Part 2” feels like almost constant action, with the characters running, searching, or fighting for their lives at virtually every turn. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the story takes place at night, and a considerable amount of the film looks dingy and unclear, especially in several of the action scenes. (It doesn’t help that everything seems to be colored brown, grey or black, and that cinematographer Eduardo Serra shoots everything through a desaturated, muddy filter.) I was relieved to see the final showdown less because it was a dramatic culmination of eight films than the fact that their magic wands created enough light that I could actually see what was happening.

Also, where in “Part 1” there were a number of “oh that guy? He died” scenes, which seemed to undercut their importance in the overall saga, here they’re replaced by “oh, they’re dead, and here they are” scenes. Notwithstanding a few cutaways demonstrating character details, there are some significant character deaths in the film, and yet we only see the aftermath – namely, their bodies. While this isn’t especially gruesome, it feels like it slights these characters, and gives the entire narrative a feeling that the filmmakers are trying to wrap things up in terms of story, not bring them to a close in a more profoundly emotional way.

Having been a huge fan of the “Lord of the Rings” films, I felt like that saga earned its 40 endings, and created an emotional throughline that built so steeply that the ending was just devastating emotionally. What I felt here was a sense that I, or probably more accurately, the rest of the fans in the audience with me, were coming to terms with the end of a film series that has meant something very significant to them, and although there’s a value to that sort of emotional catharsis, it doesn’t come from where it should – meaning the actual story. As emotional as some moments were, they were the sorts of cues that signaled that this character or that one’s story had come to an end, a payoff or resolution had been achieved, but seldom did they feel like they bore the weight of eight films of setup, buildup, escalation, or just plain narrative momentum. Admittedly, this reaction may or may not be influenced by my unfamiliarity with much of the secondary storytelling, but cinematically, “Harry Potter” has ended because it was going to – there are no more books! – and not because it absolutely had to.

Still, I think that the film is well-assembled, notwithstanding its dingy appearance, and well-acted, with Radcliffe, Watson and Grint effortlessly falling not only into the rhythms of their own character, but their position in the threesome’s longtime friendship. And moreover, the film is completely successful at giving its audience the feeling that they have shared an experience with these characters for almost ten years, and that their farewell is bittersweet. But ultimately, it’s both the exclusivity of its mythology, the minutiae of the world the filmmakers created, and the finality of its narrative which gives the film its resonance. In which case, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a serviceable, well-executed epic that should satisfy fans of its predecessors, or the franchise as a whole, but it’s one that isn’t meant for newcomers.

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About Todd Gilchrist

Todd Gilchrist is a Los Angeles-based film critic and entertainment journalist. Over the past decade he worked at a variety of online and print publications, including the Miami New Times, Filmstew.com, SCI FI Wire, and IGN.com, where he wrote reviews, conducted interviews with actors and filmmakers, and edited Movies, DVD and Music content. He currently works for Cinematical.com among other outlets, and has been a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association since 2005.

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One Comment

  • July 15, 2011 | Permalink |

    Can you at least have someone who is more familiar with the plot and the characters backstories review the film? This reviewer is a Lord of the Rings fan, so use this analogy. Had you never read the books of THAT epic story and not watched the first two films of the LOTR trilogy, how could you possible watch the final installment and give an informed review of it. What a waste of time reading this review!

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