Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Eight films in just about 10 years and no rusty wands in the bunch — or however you wish to phrase it. The success of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series theatrically has been unprecedented in both box-office receipts and critical success. Perhaps Warner Bros. and producer David Heyman are to thank for their careful supervision, or original director Chris Columbus for helping to envision a foundation for future success and casting three kids who proved as right for their roles at age 10 as they do at 20. Maybe it’s long-time “Potter” scribe Steve Kloves for finding a way to give both fans and studio heads exactly what they were looking for. Yet as the credits roll on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” the satisfying punctuation mark at the end of a true cinematic journey, it really all comes back to characters and storytelling — to Rowling. 

“Part 2” continues the final quest of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe): find and destroy the remaining three Horcruxes and finish Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once and for all. To do so, Harry must sneak into the vaults at Gringotts bank and then make his inevitable return to Hogwarts, where a tremendous battle looms and his toughest test awaits.

The path seems as equally harrowing for Kloves down the stretch. The second half of the book — as with the final chapters in any saga, let alone “Potter” — contains a lot of dialogue to tie up loose ends and a variety of old (and even new) characters reasserting themselves in the narrative. In more than a few instances he’s faced with losing propositions, but mostly comes out ahead. For every rushed or unusually slow sequence, untimely bit of humor or random bit of dialogue, there’s something he’s personally added to make the film stronger. For example, a wonderful exception to much of what goes on in the film depicts Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione’s (Emma Watson) venture into the Chamber of Secrets, whereas the book never leaves Harry’s side. We get to revisit the second film’s chilling and impressive Chamber of Secrets set, which helps create a “this is coming full circle in a dark and mature way” that Yates strives for throughout the film.

As for the promise of action unlike anything we’ve ever seen, there’s definitely a spectacle to “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” but the infamous battle in Hogwarts is 80 percent background noise while Harry pursues the lost diadem, one of the final horcruxes. Essentially, the battle possesses no narrative(s) of its own. We see all the things the book mentions: giants and the spiders of Aragog and more, but it’s all tossed together into mere presentation. Yates continues to make the danger more gritty and palpable as he’s done with the last few films, but “Part 2” does not blossom into an action epic. For the shortest “Potter” film of the lot, I would’ve exchanged 10 more minutes of my time to see some creative fight choreography and more of a flow to the battle, at the very least to give some of the story’s significant characters nobler deaths.

Part of this is rightfully to keep the focus on Harry, which Yates has always done well. We feel his journey, we know what’s at stake and we admire the person he’s become, the young man who knows what must be done. The overall character focus of “Part 1” gets a bit diluted, especially in terms of the dynamic between Harry, Ron and Hermione, but Radcliffe truly emerges into a leading actor in its place. The level of increased maturity throughout the series, namely in Yates’ films, from the acting to the fact that the script respects the audience’s intelligence and doesn’t spell things out with excessive dialogue, couldn’t be more astounding. Little ones won’t get this movie at all other than figuring out who wins when it’s all over, but to be fair, who cares; the film gets to be much more profound in its tensest moments like any grand finale simply has to be.

On the topic of maturity, perhaps the most pleasantly surprising thing about the film is its stillness. Even at the end, there’s a calm and a sense of maturity suggesting that the triumph of good over evil doesn’t come with an Ewok celebration and fireworks montages, but a recognition of all that was sacrificed. Other than the way the film handles a couple romantic moments, there’s nothing cheesy or cliché about it. Most filmmakers would likely be inclined to give in to those types of things in a conclusion, but Yates stands firm with his grim and softly-spoken vision. The film ends happily, but not in the strictest sense of the word.

So in spite of some unmet expectations and rough script edges, this ending still turns out worthy of the beginning and much more, which simply gives final testament to the power of the characters and the story Rowling has told. Her sheer creativity results in the summation that is “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” a film that could not possibly be disliked unless you disapproved of nearly every chapter before it. Her words are the ones spoken in the most affecting moments of the films and her creations paved the legacy it will leave. Although few make it this far, I doubt most franchises could end on a final note that wasn’t better than every note before it and still leave its audience as happy and satisfied as “Part 2” does.

4/5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (books)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes

1 Comment

  1. Michael Moramarco says:

    You articulated very well my biggest complaint, which has to do with the major battle scenes. I too would have loved a few extra minutes given to the death of Fred Weasley and Remus Lupin. I’d have even sacrificed a bit of the brutal demise of Snape. Though his final moments were touching, Nagini’s attack was a little much in my opinion. I was very satisfied with the film as a whole, and cannot wait to see it at least once more in the theatre. I also cannot wait till my own children get the opportunity to be transported into Harry’s world. Perhaps then, I’ll get to experience it all over again with them. It’ll be, simply put, magical.

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