Mark Reviews Movies

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Helen McCrory, Julie Walters, Ciarán Hinds, Kelly Macdonald, John Hurt

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images)

Running Time: 2:10

Release Date: 7/15/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 14, 2011

There's a brief moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 that establishes the way director David Yates, who is now responsible for half of the movies in this series including the best (the fifth) and the least (the sixth) installments, handles the histories of these characters in visual terms that more than makes up for the apparent lack of consideration screenwriter Steve Kloves has for them. It doesn't involve the backstories of any major or supporting character, human or otherwise, but a dragon.

This dragon is the unwilling resident of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, serving as one of its multiple security measures. After a spell shootout between our heroes and the bank's guards, they climb atop the fell beast, break it from its shackles, and allow it to escape, precariously gaining its balance on the roof and pausing to breathe in the air of newfound freedom. Those breaths are unnecessary to any plot point and mean nothing to anyone who's been clamoring for absolute faithfulness to the movies' source material. Yates simply allows the creature a chance to express itself and, in doing so, sums up years and years of its past.

No matter what the central arc of any of these stories he's helmed might be, Yates has excelled in fashioning small, wordless (or with the background of a vocal montage of building or dueling phrases) scenes that neither author J.K. Rowling nor Kloves would even need to contemplate. As the final acts of the saga of the young boy who learned he was a wizard only to feel the weight of the world of wizards and Muggles alike forcibly land on his shoulders unfold, the words start to mean much less. The stage has been set; it is time, not for words, but for actions.

Picking up immediately where the last one ended (with a recap of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) obtaining a powerful wand that becomes more important as the story reaches its conclusion), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has just bid his final farewells to an old friend. He, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are still searching for Horcruxes, objects into which Voldemort instilled parts of soul, in an effort to leave the dark wizard vulnerable.

First, it's a trip to Gringotts, where one of those magical items is locked up in a vault, and then, finally, Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is now headmaster, watching over the school as students march in formation and are routinely tortured by professors who are loyal to Voldemort. Another Horcrux is hidden somewhere inside, and as Harry rushes to find it, Voldemort, with his army of witches, wizards, and giants, gives everyone on the grounds an ultimatum: Hand over Harry, or die.

It's impossible to understand the film without having seen its predecessor. Further, it's worthless to take in both parts without a fair confidence in the movies before them. And—let's face it—it's become silly to expect to have a sense of full comprehension about what's happening in any of these adaptations without reading the books upon which they are based.

All of those concerns go out the window with this film (or, better, the last few acts of a particularly long one), which demands the same sort of forgiveness on the part of the audience as Rowling needed from the reader to pull off the straightforward climactic showdown and finale to a series that prided itself on culling mythology from multiple sources and plotting that was always two steps ahead without any the reader's conscious knowledge. This is an extended battle between good and evil, set in a place of relative innocence (relative, given the fact that there always seems to be some darker force at work each and every time Harry arrives at his home away from home), and despite the feeling that there's quite a bit missing from the characters' development, there is still a finality to the growth we've seen of them on screen.

Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the wise mentor figure, has a double, his brother Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), who insists that Voldemort has won the war, and the sibling further hints at the possibility that perhaps his brother and Harry's most important teacher was not the pure figure of the young man's recollection. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is confronted with the possibility that he isn't the aspiring dark wizard he's expected to be all of his life. Snape finally comes into his own, after film after film pushed him into the background. His parting words and actions are fitting, and then Yates allows his memories to say rest in a particularly affecting montage that ties together Snape's backstory and vital plot information about what Harry's true role is in this ultimate fight against Voldemort while intercutting a tragic walk up a flight of stairs to where his fate awaits.

Another walk becomes significant to Harry's own maturity, as he tours the effects of Voldemort's unrelenting hunt for him, later consoled and pushed on by the parental figures—biological and otherwise—of his past. Death comes often to Hogwarts in this chapter, and Yates handles it in a serene way that's juxtaposed with the frenetic chaos of the action of spells volleyed at a magical shield surrounding the castle, a flight away from a monstrous fireball, and two mortal enemies darting this way and that in a cloud of smoke. It's two hands reaching out to touch each other that never will or a journey to King's Cross station to hear one last time from an old friend.

I said in my review of the previous movie that the series has started to feel like a chore. That sensation is decisively squelched with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. It's been a rocky road, but this final stop is among the series' best entries.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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