Thursday, 20 October 2011

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two)

This is it folks. The end of a franchise which enthralled the world. Harry, Ron and Hermione have reached their journey's end. After ten years, eight movies, six defence against the Dark Arts teachers, four directors, two dead parents, one bespectacled boy and over $6billion in worldwide takings, it all comes to this; Harry Potter's final showdown against the amphibian face lord, Voldemort.

In this final instalment Harry (Radcliffe) and co (Grint and Watson) are still in search of the remaining Horcruxes, enchanted magical objects which house fragments of Voldemort's (Fiennes) soul, and whose destruction make the Dark Lord mortally vulnerable. Cue daring raids on impenetrable bank vaults and frantic searching through a Hogwarts beleaguered by battle.  

As the grand finale of a series adorned by obsessive fans it is of utmost importance that it be revered in the most sacred fashion possible. Many of us have grown up with these characters and watched them evolve over the last ten-years; an absolutely unique event in film history. It also contributes to a feeling that something unprecedented is ending. It's a climax of epic proportions. Thus it represents a momentous challenge for its creators, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, required to accentuate the action sequences from the book whilst maintaining balance with the emotional emphasis that comes with the territory. Even if this final part is only based on half a novel, there's still a lot of ground to be covered.

Deathly Hallows Part 2 switches focus to an all out war in an ashen gray Hogwarts, rather than the mystery solving of the previous films. Everything is on a truly epic scale as grand sets are torn apart while a dwindling number of Hogwarts students make their last stand against Voldemort's endless onslaught of Death Eaters and other assorted nasties. There was always the risk all this might sacrifice the emotional footing the series has been built on, but in actual fact it does more to enhance it. Characters face peril at every turn and you'd be a heartless bastard not to shed a tear as others we've come to love snuff it. However, it's not just moments of mortal danger which make you feel for characters. Professor Snape's (Rickman) final disclosure is perhaps the most emotional part, tentatively handled in an incredibly moving manner while Professor McGonagall (Smith) is revealed to be the badass we've always suspected her to be.

By and large though this is Daniel Radcliffe's big moment as Harry steps forward to meet his destiny. Indeed, if there is one major flaw with the Deathly Hallows Part 2 it's that other characters take a bit of a back seat to Harry and Voldemort's showdown. Mrs. Weasley's (Walters) time to shine in a clash with Bellatrix (Bonham Carter) feels rushed in a theme symptomatic of other characters who likewise only getting fleeting moments in proceedings. Harry's love interest for example, Ginny (Wright), barely features. Indeed, the film only ever slows to deal with moments involving Harry which leaves you wishing that the film may have been 3-hours long instead just to explore some of themes merely skirted over. The acting is of course strong throughout, but too brief in many character's cases who get the short shrift. Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall and Tom Felton's Draco Malfoy for example are two characters just screaming for more screen time. Likewise, Matthew Lewis' unsung hero Neville Longbottom, completing his transformation from a boy who lost his toad in the Philosopher's Stone to General rallying his troops in the Battle for Hogwarts just cries for more. Indeed, it almost feels as if every bit of fat has been shredded from the narrative leaving things feeling a little rushed. Ironically this approach was arguably needed more in the previous films whereas here such an approach could easily have been relaxed. In it's defence however this somewhat closely follows the final third of the book, but it still nonetheless marks a missed opportunity to rectify this. 

Naturally Deathly Hallows Part 2 keeps in the fine Harry Potter tradition of visual splendour. From Bellatrix's vault at Gringotts to magical flames licking every corner of the Room of Requirement when a spell gets out of hand, it really is quite amazing to think that this Hollywood spectacle is actually a British film. While this magical artistry and epic scale does at times threaten to overwhelm the series' trademark intimacy, thankfully it never sells short its humanity. The allegory on show here isn't particularly innovative or enlightening, but it is nonetheless portrayed in powerful fashion. Yes it charts the transformation of a young naif who goes on to become a selfless adult of stout heart and conviction. The series starts playfully innocent and in jejune wonder to move on to the confusion, angst and anger of those teenage years only to come out the other side learning to confront the jarring and sometimes frightening elements of life ending in a truly liberating experience. But most of all, it is the recognition that love, loyalty and compassion which are the most powerful tools one can arm themselves with in the darkest of times.

By and large its faults are mostly nitpicking but overall this is a fitting farewell, if not a bit rushed. It should satisfy Potter fans and is a worthy climax to the most successful film franchise in history. The Harry Potter films represent the best British talent has to offer the movie industry and have completed a truly unprecedented feat in Hollywood. Take a bow guys, you deserve it.