It’s been 10 years since Chris Columbus’ painfully bland Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The series has evolved over eight movies from quaint to delightfully dark and brooding, and the weight of J.K. Rowling’s tale has steadily grown with the characters and their target audience.
As the films have gotten visibly darker so has the story—fascism, torture, murder, ethnic cleansing. It's not really kid’s movie stuff. But the Harry Potter movies really haven’t been kiddie fare since Chamber of Secrets. As the ads inform us, “It all ends here.”
Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows - Part 2, which opens today in 2-D, 3-D and at select IMAX theaters, is a smashing ending to an epic series. Special effects brilliantly serve the story, making every spell, every ball of flame and crumbling castle wall all the more powerful. And this time, it’s in 3-D.
We last left Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) graveside, having just been rescued by Dobby, the valiant and now very dead house elf, from Voldemort’s minions. At the same time Voldemort was off procuring the Elder Wand (one of three fabled Deathly Hallows) from Dumbledore’s grave. We see again the moment when Voldemort raises the Elder Wand to the heavens in a declaration of his invincibility.
Meanwhile, newly appointed Hogwarts Headmaster Severus Snape coolly surveys his new dominion alone as Dementors keep watch, hovering at the edge of the castle, their tattered rags twisting menacingly in the air.
The search to find and destroy horcruxes—the little pieces of Voldemort's soul he’s stashed in important objects—also picks up right where it left off. Their quest begins with the infiltration of the impenetrable Gringotts bank and ends up where it all began, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Attack by Voldemort and his forces is imminent as Harry, Hermione and Ron search for the remaining horcruxes that will hopefully destroy the Dark Lord forever. Students and teachers from present and past, remaining members of the Order of Phoenix, the gang's all here for an all-out wizard war to buy Harry time to destroy Voldemort piece by piece.
The creative team responsible for bringing this final chapter to life did not disappoint. The Gringotts dragon, the casting of protective spells around Hogwarts, the bleakness of the Forbidden Forest at the moment of Harry’s surrender—Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is an extraordinarily beautiful and haunting cinematic feat. It has the same blue/black tones of the last several films, but since it also features epic battles, it’s the first time we’ve really gotten to see this level of destruction and war in the wizarding world.
And while I’m sure the film will look absolutely gorgeous in 2-D, it’s breathtaking in 3-D.
From his very first scene, Radcliffe is excellent. Though Part 1 and 2 were shot back to back, this Harry seems decidedly more focused and commanding. And while Hermione and Ron have his back, as always, they also take some time out from the mortal peril for a little much-anticipated snogging. The threesome has come so far together, and this last film contains some of their best performances.
The always excellent supporting cast still centers this whimsical world, and they are literally all here. Warwick Davis is excellent as the treacherous goblin Griphook and charming as Professor Flitwick. Helena Bonham Carter takes a turn as Hermione under the influence of polyjuice potion disguised as Bellatrix Lestrange, making for some of the few comic moments.
Oddly enough, Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort gets a few funny lines, too, but most may be too genuinely terrified to fully appreciate his comic timing. Fiennes has made Voldemort the consummate villain, a broken being of pure evil who kills in a most devastatingly casual manner.
And for those worried that a certain Neville Longbottom (played by Matthew Lewis) wouldn’t get his moment in the sun, fear not. Neville has many rock star moments. He has a few more than Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, who’s underused, but makes the most out of her few brilliant lines.
The flashbacks that illuminate Snape’s story are vibrant revelations that escape the trappings of the standard twist. Alan Rickman has earned his moment and plays it out with the same restraint and conflict we’ve glimpsed behind his black eyes throughout all the films.
Another particularly affecting scene depicts Harry just before he joins Voldemort in the forest when he is able to see and be comforted by lost loved ones.
It’s been clear these past years that these films have been made for the fans of the books. Each iteration is filled with little "Easter Eggs"—a brief line here or there, a lightning fast allusion, a little wink to the reader that says, “We could elaborate on this, but you know what it means.” This does not make for particularly great filmmaking, obviously. And there are very few films of the franchise that can stand on their own as a movie.
Deathly Hallows - Part 2 may be at the top of the pile, as it the most mission-oriented film yet, peppered with those sorts of one-liners people in the movies seem to come up with all the time when they face or narrowly escape death. The pacing is vastly improved from the last movie, which basically featured a lot of reading and listening to the radio in a smelly tent. What’s at stake is painfully clear and it thankfully avoids delving too much into the storied tale of the Dumbledore family and other distractions.
What’s a bit heartbreaking about Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is how it perfectly manifests so many moments that fans have been waiting to see, only to muck some of it up at the very end. The last 15 minutes are dotted with puzzling plot changes and empty moments of staring off into the distance. And it’s only 2 hours and 10 minutes long. I would have gladly held it for another 20 minutes if it meant for a better realized denouement.
But, the rest of it is nearly perfect—not just because it follows the book (because it doesn’t always), but because it is such a feat of ingeniously applied special effects, more respectable acting than required by a blockbuster, and it really gets to the heart of the Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is a marvelous ending to a grand undertaking and a truly magical way to say goodbye to old friends.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is now playing at:
- UA King Of Prussia Stadium 16 & IMAX, 300 Goddard Blvd., King Of Prussia
- AMC Plymouth Meeting 12, 494 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting
- Regal Marketplace at Oaks Stadium 24, 180 Mill Road, Oaks
For more of Megan Carr’s movie reviews and media musings, visit her website at therestiscreamcheese.com.