Sunday, September 4, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - Review

Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, obviously, but although it maintains the slick  production and gets into the really interesting parts of the plot, it still seems somehow incomplete. Naturally this makes sense, as it is one movie in two parts, but while the two halves are crafted to stand well independently, the momentum of the full story feels interrupted. Where Part 1 felt somehow light on plot (despite being full of incident), Part 2 seems to pick up right in the middle of stakes being heightened. But once it gets going, it is a satisfying conclusion to the 10 year series.

The momentum quickly picks up with the plan to break into goblin-guarded Gringotts Bank to find the Horcrux hidden in Bellatrix Lestrange's vault, and the entire sequence inside Gringotts, with its Indiana Jonesey tunnels, caves and rollercoaster cart tracks, is great fun. After that, the film mainly builds up to the epic climax, with Hogwarts fully under siege, and under control of the ambiguously loyal Severus Snape. We briefly get to see Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall in action and, while the Professors do their bit, its the students who pick up swords and wands to protect Hogwarts - often to death. A bold move on Rowling's part. Beyond the main trio of Harry, Ron & Hermione, it is refreshing to see a troop of young, unknown British actors take on the high stakes epic of battle. Matthew Lewis, in particular, impresses as previously awkward & clumsy Neville Longbottom, coming into his own as a Hogwarts hero.

Ralph Fiennes finally gets to inhabit Voldemort in all his glory, and he delivers a strange, eerie beast indeed. Never lacking in menace, he gains much traction from always keeping the dark lord eccentric, left of centre and dangerously unpredictable. Danielle Radcliffe faces off against him with his usual grit and intensity. The film's biggest emotional blow, however, does not come from the heat of battle or in the long-awaited face off between Harry & Voldemort, but when Yates takes a side step to tell Snape's full story. It is a stirring yarn that finally puts a lid on the serious, sinister and ambiguous Severus Snape, and Alan Rickman plays it perfectly, as always. Of all the epic things that take place, it is Snape's story that resonated the most when leaving the theatre.

In terms of the source novels, Rowling shows how carefully and well plotted her series was by  bringing together all the strands she set up in her previous novels. The one thing I felt she underused is the Deathly Hallows of the title, although they feature prominently, their impact could have been made far more significant. Yates, too, falters slightly in failing to clearly explain the significance of the Elder Wand's allegiances, despite carefully setting up the sequence of events that determine its ultimate fate as far back as the Half-Blood Prince. He also introduces a subplot about Dumbledore's family history that serves to illustrate Rowling's consistent commitment to well-rounded heroes & villains who are neither purely good or purely evil (even Voldemort is portrayed as being lost, hurt & without love, rather than simply evil), but is never taken further or concluded.

Kudos to Yates, though, for retaining the largely metaphysical dialogue between Harry and Dumbledore in Kings Cross station (aka Limbo), although Rowling's resolution feels merely convenient without the film properly justifying the logic behind it. Long-devoted Potter fans are also given a sly pat on the back when Dumbledore tells Harry that things are no less real for occurring only in his head.

A satisfying, effective conclusion to an epic series, with a few holes, some surprises and just a slight lack of urgency.

Oscar potential: Some wish it would be a Best Picture contender on behalf of the series, but I just don't think its a strong enough stand-alone film to make the Academy take it seriously; Visual Effects are likely; Art Direction is a possibility (think Gringotts), the Make Up team deserves a nod for turning Ralph Fiennes into Voldemort, although make up has a hard time being recognised if it chiefly applies to one character only; possibly Sound Mixing & Sound Editing; & could Fiennes be taken seriously enough to get a Supporting Actor nomination? Probably not, but it would be good fun if he did.