Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. As a big, big Harry Potter fan I find myself strangely sad beginning this review. Harry Potter as a film series and as a book series has been with me since my very early days on the site. In fact, one of my first genuine bit of breaking news came because of this series, when I interviewed Steven Kloves about his great film Wonder Boys and he spilled some info on the very first Potter movie.
It’s sad that the series has come to an end. That’s one less constant I have in my universe. To be honest, it hit me more when the final book came out. That series bridged my late teen years and my adult years, afterall, but the movie series has also been there for a long while. Christ, the first movie came out around the time The Fellowship of the Ring did. They’re making the prequel to that series now and Potter’s just finishing up!
The journey has been a fascinating one, an experiment in filmmaking that has never been attempted at this level, much less been as creatively and financially successful and for that I’ll always be humbled by this series, book nerd nit-picks and minor grumbles aside.
So, I’m sad to say that I think they fumbled the finale a little bit. Don’t worry, they didn’t totally screw the pooch. The second installment of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is a good movie, that gives a somewhat satisfying end to the series… But I didn’t want good. The source material wasn’t just “good.” This series needed a great finale. It was on the page and I’ve been defending the decision to break this final book into two movies since the announcement because I believed they were doing it in order to give the series the epic finale it has been building up to for 10 years.
With two movies that gives the filmmakers a chance to cover what needs to be covered in the novel and even expand on some of the things the book skims over. Or so I thought.
The producer’s mantra has been “stay with Harry,” which is understandable. When you get into 500, 600, 700 page books something’s going to have to be left out. But in this case they stayed with Harry to what I feel is the detriment of the overall series. Harry is in Hogwarts, flushing out the last Horcruxes as the battle is underway, which means we stay with Harry as he wanders around empty halls while a massive life or death battle between characters we’ve spent 10 years getting to know happens off screen.
Occasionally Harry and friends enter into the fray, but those scenes are tiny when they should have been Saving Private Ryan with magic.
It’s not all about the spectacle, either. There’s an emotional connection I feel with these characters, students and professors, so I felt cheated out of their stories. You have 276 minutes between Part 1 and Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows. There’s more than enough room in there to give us satisfying final moments to send away more than just the core kids and Voldemort.
Yeah, book geeks might be upset, but what about the folks just like the movies and don’t know what they’re missing? An informal poll after the screening seemed to suggest that the film works better when you’re not hung up on what could have been like me, but I still can’t believe the battle playing as completely satisfying even to non-book nerds.
Let’s take a step back here. This isn’t just a fight over some magical MacGuffin. The Battle For Hogwarts is the final stand where the forces of good risk everything in the face of an evil that seems unbeatable. This is where fate of the world and all the characters we’ve spent 10 years or more with is put on the table. We see everybody from The Order of the Phoenix, kids we met as youngsters in Year One, professors we’ve followed Potter, Granger and Weasley into classes with, all standing up against the worst, most evil enemy this world has ever seen more powerful than he’s ever been. He has an army of evil wizards, he has the most powerful wand in the world… this is a snake-nosed Hitler with the A-bomb.
So explain to me again why we couldn’t split the action between Harry and the people fighting to give him the time he needs to make Voldemort vulnerable enough to possibly defeat? I don’t think splitting the action hurt Empire, Jedi or LOTR much.
There are literally dozens of characters that we know at work and we get bare seconds with while Harry, Hermione and Ron solve puzzles to get the horcruxes. It’s a mistake not to include then from a storytelling perspective, a spectacle perspective and an emotional perspective and it’s a mistake that I feel will be hard for me to overcome as a fan of the series.
Part of the reason is because Part 1 did such a great job setting us up for this final stand. And the foreboding while in Hogwarts as Voldemort and his forces stand outside the gates is amazing. There’s a palpable sense of dread. Jaws in the water. Jason’s in the woods outside the cabin. The clown doll has disappeared from the chair in your bedroom. Voldemort is there, a paltry defense spell the only thing keeping the forces of evil from destroying Hogwarts and murdering everybody inside.
Eduardo Serra’s cinematography is bleak, Alexandre Desplat’s score is filled with doom, the actors all stare out into the black night knowing the storm is coming and it’s brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that only sharpened the disappointment at missing the Battle For Hogwarts. That’s what you guys just spent 15 minutes setting up! You got us in the mood then went out drinking with your asshole friends!
So, enough bitching about what’s not there. Let’s look at the rest of the movie. I can’t find any fault with any of the performances. Everybody is comfortable in their roles by now, especially Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe who bring a close to the characters that have defined them in the public eye since childhood.
Ralph Fiennes really gets to shine in this installment. He gets to gloat, the world’s at his fingertips afterall, but he also begins feeling each Horcrux being destroyed and realizes he’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been. Suddenly there’s real stakes for him and seeing that slight doubt creep in is fascinating, giving the character more depth than he’s had before.
Once again Alan Rickman is shafted a bit (I’ll never understand why they didn’t stress Snape more in this series), but he gets a great emotional closure that is about the best part of the movie. Fans of the book will know what I’m talking about, others won’t so I’ll keep mum on the details, but Snape fans will be happy.
David Yates once again proves to have a great visual style and a knack for getting good performances. His direction isn’t the problem. The little bits of action we get around Hogwarts are actually really well done… I just disagree with him on not including more of it.
Like I said above, this isn’t a bad movie, just a disappointing one for this fan. I understand books and films are different mediums, but I fail to understand how some of these decisions were reached since most of the glossed over stuff is extremely cinematic in nature.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a decent close, with many characters getting one good final moment, but it’s about half of the emotional punch I expected and less than what this amazing series and these fantastic characters deserved.