The Harry Potter movies were never really about making the best piece of film, they were about bringing a fantastical world to live and invigorating the dreams and thoughts of those who read the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling. When the books initially came out, the magical world where Hogwarts existed felt, at times, more tangible than our own world. So confident and fleshed was all the lore and history in Rowling’s universe (undoutedely inspired by a great wealth and ancient myths and mythology) that slipping into the magical wizard or witch slippers was as easy as picking up the book and reading from page one. This all started 14 years ago and the Harry Potter series, books and movies, have spread throughout the world like no other, capturing the hearts and imaginations of people young and old. But sadly, as Rowling had to put down the pen for her closing chapter, so must the long saga about The Boy Who Lived draw to a close with its eighth and final film installment in the Harry Potter franchise.
[warning; minor spoilers]
I’m sure I’m not the only one who holds mixed feelings for these turn of events. It’s slightly disorienting to realize that one of the biggest stories and money-successes in history have finally reached its closing moments. Granted, many more efforts such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando attempt to keep its spirit alive, but unless Rowling or director David Yates decide to conjure some surprise expansion of the series out of their robes, we won’t be seeing any more Voldemort incarnations in the near future.
The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is probably the single most different film in the entire chain of movies in terms of storytelling and execution. Many will say that The Prisoner of Azkaban was probably the movie where new director Alfonso Cuarón, who took the helm after Chris Columbus, infused a new dynamic and atmosphere in the Potter series ultimately influencing the direction of future installments, but The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a completely separate film from its predecessors because of one main reason: the movie is all action. For 10 years now we’ve watched Harry and his friends grow up and having adventures. With Deathly Hallows: Part 1 acting as prelude and exposition material, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 capitalizes on the established plot, gathers all the characters, and brings us a fitting finale and good-bye to the wizard who, evidently, is no longer a boy.
Power bolts and spells whistle and crack as wizards and witches battle for the fate of the wizarding world. Brutish ogres, giant tarantulas, and an army of Hogwart statues join the fray to make the war between the forces of good and evil feel even more real and expansive. Even witty miracles such as the dragon demolition of Gringott’s goblin bank also breathe more magical life into the series than I had previously remembered.
For sheer entertainment value and action, this is the most fun and blood-pumping film in the series. After having gotten to know the entire cast of characters from the previous films, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 wastes no time and buckles down. With Harry having discovered Voldemort’s secret to psuedo-immortality, Voldemort has grown impatient and and finds it of very high priority to kill Harry Potter as soon as possible. Harry returns to Hogwarts to seek the last of the few Horcruxes just as Voldemort lays siege to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with his army of Death Eaters. The story has an unprecedented epic war-movie feel that nestles itself on a scale larger than ever seen on the Potter screen. Yates amps up the adrenaline as he works the special effects team to their max, infusing more frequent and longer exhibition of magic dueling and combat and keeps the ebb and flow of combat clear; for all its blitzkrieg energy, the battle never feels incoherent (though occasionally slow in momentum).
It is definitely safe to say that the Potter films have evolved with each movie, never really settling with what the current film had achieved. I am partial to Chris Columbus’ first film as my favorite, purely on the fact that it was the most imaginative and magical film of all eight. John William’s musical score coupled with Colombus’ less expert but child-like vision of the Hogwarts truly make me have chills every time I watch it. More recent films have evidently adopted a more realistic tone, adding practical uses of magic and deftly combining it as a commonplace technique in wizard and witch daily life. Though I do not find this interpretation fairly appealing (I would rather constantly be dumbstruck by how magic permeates my daily existence), it is arguable that the viewers, much like Harry himself, need to outgrow the initial fascination about a world, previously thought to be not real, similar to an alternate reality.
What distinguishes this film from other summer shrapnel-fests is the way it follows certain individuals we care about. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are a trio of kids that we’ve seen on screen since they were young, and a well-placed series of flashbacks properly remind us how the three main characters have grown since the beginning. Daniel Radcliffe has definitely matured as an actor, though I cannot give him any true praise for his work as Harry Potter. Out of our base trio, Radcliffe’s acting is weakest and most unconvincing. In Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I am touched by Radcliffe’s earnest efforts in the most tense scenes of deadly combat and quiet moments of subtle, shifting emotion to properly convey a teenager battling with multitudes of thoughts is apparent, but save the very last few scenes where Radcliffe manages to only just find his stride, his typical delivery never gripped me and consistently fell short of my expectations for our main protagonist. Emma Watson as Hermione has been solid as ever, discounting the fact that I had trouble identifying what kind of role she played in Part 2. Rupert Grint as Ron didn’t have too many lines aside from his usual sarcastic remarks and over-protectiveness of Hermione.
Other characters, however, finally get their due chances to shine. Neville Longbottom steals the spotlight in a very convincing portrayal of confidence in himself and loyalty to his friends. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), who was pushed to side in the most recent films, steps forward to play pivotal roles, and really cool ones I might add. Another standout performance, which had me chuckling, was by Helana Bonham Carter as the Hermioned-turned-Bellatrix. Well known for her undiluted evilness as Bella Lestrange, Carter pulls an amazing feat of impersonating Emma Watson’s character; she has Hermione’s mannerisms down perfectly. It was wonderful to see nearly every character from the entire series make some sort of appearance in the film since it gives a nod to each person who contributed in making Harry Potter a success. The only problem this creates is a less focused and streamlined narrative that carries numerous peripheral tidbits, which many Harry Potter fanatics yearn for, but in the context of film-making, it’s highly distracting.
With a series like Harry Potter, it is unavoidable that people compare the books and films. This, unfortunately, brings up the one qualm I have about the the Harry Potter films in general. The Harry Potter filmmakers had the difficult task of producing a series of movies that would please the millions of fans of the books, but would still be entertaining to those who haven’t read them. Being a reader of the books myself, I’ve enjoyed the references to the more obscure characters and events that are sometimes mentioned in the movies, but I have always believed that if so much were not included, the films could have carried a more narrative and focus on delivery. Often times, I lose track of the main direction in each movie due to how much of each book is crammed into the two-hour time frame. For example, I’ve always felt both parts of Deathly Hallows never properly explained horcruxes explicitly enough. Many of the deaths in the book, also, carried tremendous weight and importance but felt very muted in the movie due to the forced decision to reveal their deaths despite having been minor characters in the context of the films. Of course, I was expecting quite a few trademark scenes such as Mrs. Weasley’s “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH” mom-a-zilla line, but was slightly dismayed to see an interpretation of the scene completely different from my own unfold on screen.
This is not to say that Yates didn’t get anything right. In fact, Yates handles numerous scenes extraordinarily well. Deathly Hallows: Part 2‘s strongest and most valuable scenes are in its quiet moments in between the pandemonium of fighting. Though these types of scenes felt slow and tiresome in Deathly Hallows Part 1, the scenes in Part 2, particularly the pensieve scene, where Harry sorts through Snape’s past memories, and Harry’s ultimate confrontation with his own death, are emotionally and visually gripping to point where you wonder why the rest of the series could be just the same.
Two scenes are also worth mentioning, purely based on their artistic and technical executions. The first being immediately before the siege at Hogwarts where the school’s professors busy themselves with conjuring a massive barrier around the school. The slow generation of the protective membrane (as well as it’s destruction in the following battle) just evokes a sense of awe much like being inspired by the sight of a rare occurrence or landmark.The other particular scene that I am fond of was where Harry discovers a Voldemort fetus (previously the Voldemort part that existed within him) under the bench at Heaven’s King’s Cross. The visual detail and grotesque beauty of the fetus was unbelievably awesome (for a lack of a better word); I was duly impressed with the way the artists brought it to life. Simply stunning. Absolutely stunning.
The movie ends appropriately with Rowling’s epilogue where we get to see our favorite characters all grown up. I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw Harry’s older counterpart. Though our technology has advanced so quickly over the past years, nothing can really emulate old age (the closest we have seen is in David Fincher’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button), though Ginny’s appearance nearly felt natural. Regardless, getting to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione (as well as Malfoy) as adults struck the appropriate final chord. It was the sign that one story had come to an end, granting closure to a truly remarkable journey for the Boy Who Lived and everyone who followed him. With 8 films, 7 books, and over a billion fans in the world, what is most impressive is how Harry Potter movies have maintained their integrity, and how they are continuously able to dazzle us the very moment Harry received his first owl letter to when Harry stood with his friends as they watched their children set off on the Hogwarts Express. That, alone, is an achievement that will stand for years to come.