Monday, August 1, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
Directed By: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter

Ten years and eight feature length films later, the adventures of J.K. Rowling's boy wizard comes to a close. A generation of kids who grew up reading about black magic, goblins and hidden Horcruxes will now be closing a chapter on their childhood. Although I have not read the books myself, many of my friends credit the series with teaching them about loyalty, friendship and first loves -- essential life lessons that go above and beyond what is normally expected in your average fantasy series. 

However, as I mentioned in my November 2010 review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One: Peter Jackson managed to make all three of his The Lord of the Rings films a cohesive story. They followed one thread and worked well, both together and as individual, stand-alone films. I find that this has never been the case with the Harry Potter franchise. Granted, there are a lot of films that the screenwriters have to struggle to string together, yet for someone like me who has never read the books, it can be alienating. Nearly each Harry Potter film has had a new director and, as a result, has a different tone and atmosphere than its predecessor, which I also think is the root cause of some of its issues. I think it makes them feel like jagged vignettes that don't always quite fit together as a whole.

In this final instalment the film begins right where the last one left off -- Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has retrieved the Elder Wand from the corpse of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Meanwhile, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) team up to try to find the mysterious Horcruxes -- each one containing a small, yet vital, fragment of Voldemort's soul. In destroying each of the Horcruxes, Voldemort's power weakens and sets the story up for the much-anticipated duel between Harry and his snake-like nemesis. 

Director David Yates returns with his same cast and crew and, as a result, these final two films in the franchise come together nicely in terms of atmosphere, tone and visuals. The cinematography is beautiful -- all dark greys, browns and earthy greens, lending the finale a sort of aesthetic acknowledgment that it has come to a dark, emotional end. 

Yet, Deathly Hallows Part Two lacks a structural tightness to its story, although this has more to do with Rowling than it is the fault of the screenwriters. From what I gather of the book series, it's ultimately all leading up to this final duel between good and evil. However, it does seem to have taken an awfully long time to get to the point of it all. Did Rowling really need seven novels of misadventures at Hogwarts to effectively illustrate her life lessons on friendship, loyalty and good vs. evil? Probably not. As a result, the entire film series was a combination of false starts and anti-climaxes, resulting in sometimes plodding films (specifically the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, of which I remember next to nothing, despite having seen it more than once). 

Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.
The strongest link in this film franchise has, and always will be, the acting -- all of which improves with each film. Emma Watson (as Hermione) and Rupert Grint (as Ron), in particular, have both matured into great young actors who brought a lot to their roles as young, blossoming wizards. Without them, Harry would have ultimately failed in many of his tasks. Their unflagging loyalty to their gifted friend remains one of the franchise's most powerful lessons in what it means to be a true friend. It makes it inevitable that both Hermione and Ron will both come to appreciate that dedication in one another and fast-track their relationship past the platonic stage -- and thankfully Watson and Grint have a charming, opposites-attract chemistry. 

However, if this final instalment belongs to anyone, it belongs to Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman. Both do a tremendous job with what they are given to work with (which isn't a lot, especially in the case of Rickman). 

As Lord Voldemort, Fiennes is fabulous -- teaching the audience the art of subtlety; giving a masterful performance of evil, even while buried beneath layers and layers of caked on make-up with only his eyes to convey his dark thoughts. It's a pity it took so long for his character to come anywhere near front and centre in the franchise. Fiennes is absolutely fascinating to watch and he turned Voldemort into a remarkably creepy villain. 

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.
As the tragically misunderstood Severus Snape, Rickman is finally given his chance to shine. Why Rowling took so long to reveal the unrequited love Snape harboured and his desire to protect Harry is anyone's guess. Rowling very nearly deprived her audience of feeling any sense of understanding for the Hogwarts teacher, choosing instead to reveal everything all at once at the very end. As a result, the audience is forced to quickly catch up on an entire life's worth of pining and loss in Snape. Oh, what might have been -- for both the character of Snape and Rickman as an actor -- had Rowling delved deeper into her creation much earlier in the series, allowing her audience to relate and grieve with Snape, instead of making it all feel like an afterthought. Instead, the audience is left wondering about what more there could have been to the tragic (and disappointingly underused) character of Snape. 

Once all is said and done, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two will likely leave all those loyal Potterheads happy, thrilled and nostalgic for their childhood. If those devotees left the theatre satisfied than that's ultimately all that matters. Although it was a flawed series it still achieved what any good blockbuster should -- a loyal fanbase that welcomed its coming-of-age life lessons and its portrayal of good vs. evil. 


Question: What was your favourite Harry Potter film?