Deathly Hallows — Part 2 is not so much a sequel as it is just a continuation of Part 1. Rather than having its own three-act structure, Part 2 essentially begins during the middle of the second act, which began in Part 1. If possible, watch Part 1 immediately before watching Part 2. It will make more sense in terms of the narrative flow.
The movie begins without much introduction. It picks up immediately where Part 1 ended and hits the ground running. Without spoiling too much for people that haven’t read the books, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) continue to hunt the horcruxes that are keeping Voldemort (Ralph Finnes) alive, while around them the war is over, and he-who-must-not-be-named has won.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is all but impossible to review in the traditional sense. It’s not a standalone film (rather the second half of the Deathly Hallowstale), while also serving as the closing chapter to a movie franchise that has spanned eight films over the course of a decade, and become part of a worldwide phenomenon. As such, it’s more fitting to call it “a cinematic event,” rather than your run-of-the-mill movie release.
So, taking that all into account, it’s easy to see why the majority of moviegoers will be headed to the theater to see Deathly Hallows: Part 2 with little regard or care for what critics have to say about it. Still, the film must be reviewed, so the two big questions to address are: does this chapter end the series on a strong note? And is Deathly Hallows: Part 2 a good movie in its own right?
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The answer to both questions is a resounding YES.
By now the story should be familiar, but in case it isn’t: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has gone through life living in the shadow of that faithful night when the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) murdered his parents and set the wheels of destiny spinning. All of Harry’s adventures with his friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have led to a final quest, with the three young wizards searching for the splintered shards of Voldemort’s soul (Horcruxes), which are the key to the dark lord’s immortality.
However, Voldemort knows that Harry is aware of his weakness, and so the dark lord – in possession of a seemingly invincible wand – launches a final salvo against “the boy who lived,” his friends, allies and Hogwarts, the school that Harry has called home. At the end of the battle, only one of the fated pair will walk away.
In my Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 review, I said that one issue with that film was the static nature of the narrative, which saw our heroes engaged in a lot of “down time.” It was a necessary sacrifice, I knew, because properly setting the stage for the epic final showdown required quieter, more meditative moments of character and thematic development. One could then expect that Deathly Hallows: Part 2 would be a non-stop action thrill-ride – and while the movie definitely moves at a very brisk pace, and features many epic moments, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how wonderfully understated it actually was.
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From the directorial style of franchise veteran David Yates to the melodic score by composer Alexandre Desplat, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 wisely remembers that while it is a movie, it is also the final link in an epic chain. As such, the film doesn’t make the mistake of being too overstated or assaulting you with mind-numbing arbitrary action, ear-shattering sounds or overly-dramatic music. When the battle at Hogwarts rages, Yates favors more picturesque photography – shots of bodies lying to and fro, familiar structures being destroyed, or characters we know engaged in battle, the focus squarely on their desperate, defiant, or despairing expressions. The music, while still containing familiar traces of epicPotter melodies past, also allows for a lot of quieter, more contemplative tunes, which enhance the resonance of all that is happening onscreen.
The filmmakers thankfully remember that we’ve journeyed so far with these characters – through the books into the movies as well as throughout the movies up to now – and so they trust that we, the audience, will understand the poignancy and meaning of the events that are unfolding. This frees Yates and his team to present the subtle emotion and larger iconography of the story, rather than just the arbitrary thrill of elaborate action scenes, or the manipulative tricks of hammy dramatics.
This same understated approach also works for the actors. By now, most people will be so deeply invested in these characters that they can pick up on the subtle nuances of their behavior, choices, expressions and banter, sparing the need for everything to be so pronounced or obvious. Watching Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is just moving, given where they began this franchise and how they’ve matured as young people, characters and actors since those early years. The trio close off their roles “brilliantly,” with Radcliffe in particular showing why he will likely have a long career that extends well beyond this franchise.
Even Ralph Fiennes is given a bit more to do this time around, as Voldemort shows more depth than we’ve ever seen from him. With every Horcrux that is destroyed Voldemort’s immortality wanes, and Fiennes manages to let a wonderfully understated bit of humanity and vulnerability escape the dark lord’s evil persona – which is still pretty evil in this movie, I might add. The same goes for franchise staples Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon); they aren’t major players in this film, but both manage to add serious depth to their characters with what little screen time they have – which is a big feat after so many installments.
If there is one thing to criticize about Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it’s that a lot of the secondary characters and subplots are clearly shortchanged in the finale. Fans of the Harry Potter books have always been critical about what the films have left out - especially starting around the fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, when Yates took over directorial duties. Having only read the first two books myself, I have always been in the camp of people who weren’t all that bothered by the streamlined narratives of the films, since they still seemed to tell a captivating story.
However, there are several events in Deathly Hallows: Part 2 that certainly felt diminished, since I had never really had the opportunity to explore or become invested in those aspects of the story. You could tell who in the theater had read the books, since their squeals of joy or sadness clearly marked moments where they understood things on a level the rest of us didn’t. Still, even in those instances, Yates does a fair job of keeping Harry and his emotions at the nexus of things, so that even if we don’t feel the impact of certain moments or developments, we can see and understand that he feels it.
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The 3D is fine, just not necessary.
In the end, by the time we get to the famous epilogue, it’s hard not to feel emotional. How often do you truly witness the end of an era, and how often does that feeling come while you’re watching a movie? Only a few times in a lifetime, I would bet – and this is certainly one of them.