That whooshing sound you hear is Harry Potter zipping past Twilight for the largest single day box office take ever. That chewing sound you hear is countless critics – who proclaimed that splitting the final Harry Potter tale into two movies was a naked cash grab – eating crow. Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is the best movie of the summer.
As a fan of the books, I approached Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [or, as it’s more properly known in the 90% of the world that isn’t the U.S.] with trepidation. It turned to be a very good movie, as adaptations go, albeit a little too slavishly close to the books. The second film was better, but it took Prisoner of Azkaban to take the series to the level of brilliance the books and their fans deserved. Since then, the films have been taken seriously and, while not equaling the brilliance of Azkaban, for the most part, they have still been amazing works of entertainment.
Then came Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 – the angsty first part of the novel translated to a moodily fine movie that set the stage for an energetic yet melancholy battle royale for the power to rule the world.
Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is not entirely action, though; there are plenty of brief pauses – pauses to consider important choices; pauses to see the effects of war [if Hogwarts looks like a bombed out London cathedral from WWII, it’s probably not a coincidence]; pauses to mourn the dead, and finally, a pause to just enjoy the possibilities that open up after good vanquishes evil [what? You thought Harry and his friends would lose?].
First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. The 3D conversion for DH2 is superb – even though there are few instances of stuff coming out of the screen at the audience, it adds depth and solidity to the proceedings, and puts us squarely in the middle of things during the movie’s first action sequence of note, a ride through Gringotts vaults.
The effects work in DH2 is also brilliantly handled. From flashing wands to living statues, to Voldemort’s [Ralph Fiennes] reptile familiar, to explosions and on and on, the mix of practical and CG effects is seamless and frequently electrifying.
As for the performances, there’s nary a misstep. Leads Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are no longer merely holding their own with the cream of British acting, they are equals. Then there’s Matthew Lewis, whose Neville Longbottom has changed and grown and is, finally, given a chance to be the hero he always wished he could be. How good are the performances? Overall, they are good enough to almost match Alan Rickman, as Severus Snape – a performance that will likely be the first mentioned in eulogy, it’s just that good.
If anyone who hadn’t read the books, but only come to the Harry Potter saga through the movies, had looked my way at a certain moment – for a certain death – they would have probably been surprised to see tears [but that wouldn’t be the only time], but the next sequence would set them straight. There are more than few moments where death comes to Hogwarts and it is shattering to see beloved characters lying on the floor of the ruined school’s main hall.
There are two crucial scenes that have to be just right in order to bring the film to a satisfying conclusion – a scene in a train station and the very last time we see the pensieve being used. With all the action, all the tears and all the brief moments of joy, The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 would not feel complete if these scenes were to be screwed up. Happily, they are as close to cinematic perfection as it is humanly possible to get. Writer Steve Kloves and director David Yates nailed them – and the rest of the film matches that level of achievement.
Virtually every great British actor to appear in the series gets some kind of cameo, whether mourning a dead friend, or lying on that improvised mortuary floor; whether sharing a disbelieving grin when the fighting is over, or trying to turn Harry over to Voldemort.
One of the best cameos is Maggie Smith’s reprisal of Professor McGonagall. Despite the imminent battle for Hogwarts, there’s a moment of pure joy that lights her face as she helps cast a spell to protect to the school. For that moment, you can her as one of Hogwarts’ students, bursting with happiness at acing a tough test. And that is just one image of dozens that stay with me.
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is the movie the series deserved to end with. It’s a smart and emotion-filled film that will stay with you well after you leave the theater – and not many summer blockbusters can do that.
Final Grade: A+