The Wizards' Wavering Place
"Maybe there’ll be some magic in Deathly Hallows: Part Two that will make everything worthwhile. But I have a feeling we’re in for more moping and teleporting and reciting of spells before the inevitable, glorified lightsaber duel—the outcome of which is as easy to guess as the weekend box office."
That's one of the closing lines from my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. I'm almost disappointed at having written it because I'm now left with little new to say about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. I blame the film for that, as I'd hoped to write about how the last decade had actually built to an amazing, satisfying conclusion; but that's not true.
Not in the least.
Okay, let me qualify that. If you're a fan of the Harry Potter films, Part 7, Part 2 (as I like to call it) will likely have you singing its praises as one of the year's best movies. It is sufficiently spectacular, kinetic and noisy--and there are more tertiary character deaths and nerd-triumph moments than you can shake a wand at.
If you're a fan of the books, well, that's a bit trickier. As with every entry in this series, Part 7, Part 2 has been criticized for either not showing key moments from the sacred text or sucking the drama out the clipped versions it does show. If you can let that sort of thing go, you may have a great time.
Personally, I spent much of the film wondering why it took eight movies to tell this particular story. The only elements that really play into the finale are the horcruxes--trinkets containing pieces of the evil Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) soul that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) must destroy--and those were mentioned for the first time in either the last movie or the one before it. I've copped to having a crappy memory when it comes to these movies, but I can't think of a single plot point or character motivation from, say, parts one, three, or five that ties directly into the events of this movie.
The whole Harry Potter story is no more complex than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and could have said everything it needed to say in three 90-minute pictures (for instance, Harry as a freshman, sophomore, and senior at Hogwarts). Everything else is just personality-free, nonsensical filler.
Please, temper your cries of "Blasphemy!" and hear me out. Many of my Pott-head friends tout the final books of the series as being the darkest and most adult. That may be true, especially for stories aimed at children. But for people past the quarter-century mark, I would hope these movies are more iCarly than Apocalypse Now. With the possible exception of the last two installments, the Harry Potter movie franchise is a rinse/repeat formula of grade-school peril that should move and surprise exactly no one.
Jeez, for all my ranting, I haven't even touched on the plot. Here goes: Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) find the last batch of horcruxes and destroy them. Hogwarts is decimated during the final showdown between the virtuous students and Voldemort's legions of dark wizards, trolls, and werewolves. Harry kills Voldemort and lives to spawn a "Further Adventures of"-enabling son/wizard-in-training.
We all knew things would pan out this way. Hell, you could walk into this movie completely ignorant of the books or the previous movies and lay out the plot in about three minutes. The only mildly interesting part of Part 7, Part 2 is the number of homages it pays to other, better films ("homage" is the kindest word I could think of). During a break-in of Voldemort hench-person Bellatrix Lestrange's (Helena Bonham Carter) magical vault, we get a new version of not only the Star Wars trash-compactor scene, but also the "throw me the idol and I'll throw you the whip" line from Raiders of the Lost Ark--all in about three minutes' time! Combine that with a climactic moment in which Ron's mother (Julie Walters) tweaks Sigourney Weaver's famous line from Aliens, and you have the perfect storm of market-tested entertainment: déjà vu for the adults; wholly original moments for their ignorant kids; and a theatre shaking with puzzling, thunderous applause.
I did like some of the last thirty minutes. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves yank on the audience's heart strings with both a flashback to the secret relationship between the "evil" Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), as well as a touching moment where Harry meets with translucent, glowing versions of his dead parents, mentors, and various members of the Jedi council. I can't tell if the material was actually well executed, or if I merely projected my own loss issues back at the screen; but for once, something rang true in this series.
The movie looks really nice, if not utterly generic. The special effects team makes use of the hundreds of millions of dollars allotted them and convincingly renders dragons that soar and force fields that sparkle and deteriorate. The only dodgy bit of CG in the movie appears in the Snape/Dumbledore scenes, where, instead of hiring a younger actor to play the Snape of twenty years earlier, the studio decided to apply a waxy--dare I say embalmed-looking--smoothing effect to Rickman's face. I've never been really impressed by fantasy-movie visuals: the best-rendered castle is still just a castle, and these tent-pole blockbusters aren't about to risk a single patron-dollar on challenging, imaginitive special effects.
Lest you think I'm being unfair, I should mention that I've seen every one of the Harry Potter movies on opening weekend; I've given each a chance to impress me story-wise, acting-wise, and visually, and have been let down, year after year after year. If I'm to evaluate these films solely on the notion that they're meant to entertain kids then, sure, I'll concede that they're perfectly fine; bloated and rather silly, but perfectly fine.
But looking at them from an adult perspective, it frightens me to think that there are so many people who accept these films as solid entertainment. Were it not for morbid curiosity and a duty to my readers, I would have abandoned these movies eight years ago. Now that the whole thing's finished, I can safely say that Harry Potter is to fantasy what Friday the 13th is to horror--a completely disposable, semi-annual tradition that has more to do with generating cash through cheap spectacle than telling any kind of a coherent story.
Everywhere I go, I see poorly Photoshopped Part 7, Part 2 posters that simply say, "It All Ends." To which I invariably nod and think to myself, "Thank Christ."
Note: Given the special occasion of this being the "last" Harry Potter movie, I splurged on the 3D LIE MAX experience ("LIE MAX" refers to the much-smaller-than-an-actual-I-MAX-screen that some AMC theatres are passing off as the real thing; branding's a bitch--watch out for it). Unless you've been saving all year so that the family can see Part 7, Part 2 in this manner (matinee price: $16 a pop), do yourself a favor and opt for the regular, glasses-free presentation. The film's visuals are dimensional enough that you don't need cardboard cut-out versions of the characters flying at you in order to be thrilled.