Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:Part 2

 Harry Potter confronts the Dark Lord Voldemort for a final showdown in the epic conclusion to the wizarding saga. It feels really redundant to attempt to succinctly pronounce the story at the beginning of this review. Firstly, due to the fact that it's success theatrically would lead me to believe that a majority of the people who read reviews on this site have seen the previous 6 films (I'm including the 7th film in this review as I see them as inseparable - other than to tell a good version of the final story without making the cinema goer sit down for a 5 hour stint). And secondly because since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on the 21st of July 2007 it has sold well over 400 million copies worldwide.

But just to refresh - we began ...the Deathly Hallows with Harry, Ron and Hermione abandoning Hogwarts in the wake of Dumbledore's death, charged with the task of seeking out Horcruxes (portions of [one's] Voldemort's soul implanted in objects). The key trio went on the run, attempting to move covertly through a now vastly different and desolate landscape. They fight, separate and reunite and discover Voldemort's final quest for 3 objects of 'Wizarding' folklore that make you a master of death - the deathly hallows. Part 1 really effectively illustrated the desolation of their cause. The safety net of Dumbledore's Hogwarts had been drastically removed by Snape's wand. For the first time they were asked to apply their knowledge and use the wherewithal that had kept them alive their in a real world situation without the guidance and protection of 'the only Wizard Voldemort feared'.  

To back-track - I have to say that I am a fan of the books. One of those 'waiting in line for the store to open, read the books in 6 hours, and immediately re-read it leisurely' people. And with that said, I have enjoyed almost all of their film counterparts. The injection of director David Yates into the franchise with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has made the franchise vastly better than I could have hoped for. In the moments following Harry being teased on the swingset by his portly cousin Dudley and his friends at the beginning of the Phoenix, Yates immediately flexed his directorial muscles and imposed a great close but evocative perspective of Harry that has grown more familiar and accomplished with every passing film. More and more Yates anchored us to Harry; with such a rich textual world with a multitude of interesting characters and integral back-stories (in the novel) it must be tempting to divert the audiences attention to someone/something else or shift the focus away from the titular character at times, but Yates doesn't. The focus remains with Harry (and Ron and Hermione of course) and it makes for a greater and more anchored viewing experience.

The film picks up almost immediately where we left off in Hallows: Part 1, a stuttering flashback of Voldemort's discovery of the 'Elder' Wand in Dumbledore's crypt and Harry, Ron and Hermione in hiding mourning the loss of Dobby in their escape from Lestrange and Voldemort's clutches. The pace of this final part is vastly different than previous chapters of the saga. There is a necessary slow and steady opening stanza that re-establishes what we've learnt in the first part of the film where Harry softly interrogates Mr Olivander about the 'Elder' wand and Griphook the Goblin about helping them break into Gringotts Bank and the Bellatrix's Vault. But from the moment Griphook agrees the trio are on their way at a frantic pace and the uncertainty and fear of their younger selves has been purged by their tasks and traumas to date. The trio now have accepted their fortune in chaos and leading with their instincts that they no longer question the inevitable danger of their next destination but that they must keep pushing on to complete their mission.

The adaption is really faithful to the book - the pieces that were omitted were often explanations of the 'why' and 'hows' while re-imagining some other elements that I actually think work better because they allow for the actors to portray these great emotions without the enunciation that's required when the story is being written. The climax of the series does not disappoint - as we get a front row seat in an all out brutal battle for Hogwarts. The filmmakers (like Rowling) did not have any hesitation in escalating the fight for the Wizarding world to bloody horrific heights. This film series, like the arc of the story, transitions from the beginning of adolescence into adulthood and the harsh reality of the damage caused by Voldemort's unyielding pursuit for immortality. In this case a slew of dead wizard's along the way and the sacking and near destruction of the Hogwarts Castle.

The lead actors have literally and figuratively grown before our eyes throughout the series and that is case once again in Hallows: Part 2. Daniel Radcliffe has brought a charm and gravitas to Harry that really makes the film for me. I love the range of his performance. I love that I'm still convinced that he's unsure of himself; I love that he emotes and evokes the feelings of pain and torture while being tethered to Voldemort and I love how convincingly his tracks through the battle - easily holding his own against Voldemort's forces. Emma Watson is her best yet as Hermione. She doesn't need to say much, and Yates doesn't unnecessarily ram her smarts down our throat once again. Her best moment in the film is triggered when Harry assumes that she's known a potential secret for some time that she's been concealing - Harry says "I think you've known for some time that...(not spoiling it)." Her wordless purely emotional reaction is moving to say the least and loaded with not only everything we know about her character but informed by her great and somewhat reserved performance up to that point. Rupert Grint's Ron barely resembles the bumbling comedic relief of the past films - he's grown in stature and presence and relishes the trio's spontaneity, and encourages it. There a few really sweet moments where Ron actually recites something that Hermione has taught him to solve a problem that elicits a sweet admiration and pride in Hermione.

Ralph Fiennes is wonderfully vicious once again as Voldemort. There is an absolutely wild scene after Voldemort realises that the Horcrux that he intentionally moved into the Lestrange vault at Gringotts Bank has been stolen by Harry. He totally lays waste to the Goblins and Wizard guards that he sees are responsible. It is out of sight the most graphically violent and shockingly bloodthirsty scene in the series. The final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort mutates between epic, confined, wondrous, personal and fitting. I really love that Harry (like Dumbledore) refers to him as Tom. Radcliffe has steadily transformed and mutated into the perfect Harry - the late great Richard Harris' Dumbledore (in the first two Potter films Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) was perfectly attuned to character in a way that Michael Gambon (who has been better with Yates at the helm) never fully reached. But the most perfectly cast actor in the series is Alan Rickman; whose portrayal of Severus Snape exceeds one's imagination. His face writhes emotion and amplifies every single word that drips from his perfectly succinct enunciation. He's given some really significant moments in Hallows: Part 2 and relishes every moment. He's a massive highlight for not only Hallows but the entire series.


Matthew Lewis' Neville Longbottom transitions wonderfully from a peripheral character into an integral member of the core group - fighting the good fight in Hogwarts while Harry, Ron and Hermione have been on their quest for Horcruxes. He totally fits the kick-ass Wizard persona he tasked with in this one and features in some of the most vital moments of the film. The other peripheral characters take a necessary back seat in Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and although they don't have the meaty roles they had in the previous films in the series they allow the audience to empathise with the epic battle that is concealing Harry's quest to destroy the Horcruxes.

I loved the scale of Hallows: Part 2. In any modern fantasy film, CGing one hundred thousand bad guys and immediately detaching the audience from the action is becoming commonplace. But at no point during the final battle and siege at Hogwarts did you feel like you were outside of the action. This was another reason for us to praise Yates' direction.

Hallows: Part 2 is the conclusion that the series deserved, with all the elements that it needed; a faithful adaption, dynamic/focused direction and solid performances/portrayals of the iconic characters. I really loved it. I really think that this chapter of the story deserved a two part structure to ensure that all the divergent pathways could be tied into one strong conclusion. My only personal suggestion is to watch Part 1 as close to your trip to the cinema as possible. They are two halves of one whole and I regret that I held off of watching it prior to watching this. It is really sad to see the end of an era - but like all great endings this will prompt you to revisit either its filmic or literary beginnings to reacquaint yourself with their more humble origins.

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