Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2011)

Director: David Yates

***

The posters for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (or Harry Potter 8, depending on how reverential you’re feeling) boast the tagline, “It All Ends.” Throughout HP8, the feeling of ending, of climax, of expectation is inescapable. For ten years and seven films, fans have stuck through thick and thin, and now Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finally confronts his tormentor Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, home to Harry and those closest to him, most notably his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Buildings will crumble. Blood will be shed. Box office receipts will be huge.

The Harry Potter series of films have generally stuck quite rigidly to J.K. Rowling’s source material. Having written all seven previous screenplays, Steve Kloves knows better than to tinker with a proven formula. Thus, all you expect from a Potter film is present and correct, from great British thespians letting their hair down to adolescent sexual tension to slightly stilted dialogue that works better in a book than onscreen. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson have grown into their roles over time, but realistically they’ve had no choice. Portraying some of the most popular characters in recent literary history requires that they inhabit their roles. This may have occurred at the cost of future career typecasting, but only time will tell. Accompanying them along the way has been a ‘who’s who’ of British acting talent, bringing with them shedloads of respectability and talent. Honestly, where else would you find Fiennes, Maggie Smith, John Hurt and Michael Gambon together on one production? However, Kloves’ necessary distilling of Rowling’s text into a palatable screenplay means many are shortchanged in HP8 (Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent, for example). For such a crammed cast, Harry is never out of the spotlight, as he continues his quest from Deathly Hallows Part I of finding the Horcruxes that can be used in the fight against Voldemort. Potter pre-knowledge is required here, but most of those seeing HP8 have been committed since Philosopher’s Stone, so no problem there.

If nothing else, director David Yates certainly knows how to use CGI to maximum effect. Hogwarts crumbles in a volley of explosions and spells, as snake-shaped flames envelop the school and its occupants. The bloodshed is toned down (it’s a primarily tween audience, y’know), but there is still a sense of jeopardy for these characters. Seeing the likes of Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) and Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) caked in blood and dust shows how far these characters have come. For all their expositional bluster, the Harry Potter series was never one for a overawing sense of despair. The main difference with HP8 is that is the end. There’s no more after this; it’s do or die. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is the suitable ending to this saga, incorporating the biggest set-pieces of the series with enough emotional heft to forgive wasting half the cast and half the running time on stale talk. Still, by the time the epilogue (yes, that one, the one from the book) rolls into view, fans will be too busy blubbing into their popcorn to care.

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