17 November 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, John Hurt, Michael Gambon
Written by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates
Release: 15 July 2011
Warner Bros., 130 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: It's Harry vs. Voldemort as the ultimate showdown comes to the front at Hogwarts.

So this is it, this is the end. I chose not to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 when it first hit theaters in order to take some time and digest the film, and as time went by, it just made more sense to wait for the home video release in order to tackle the film in a more thorough manner. Now that time has come, and with it, the end of the Harry Potter adventure, and the end of anticipation for whatever’s next in the release pipeline.

To say there’s an emotional attachment to this final film is a bit of an understatement. Like many fans, I’ve been glued to the hip to Harry Potter since the first few books, and have diligently seen every one of the movies no fewer than ten times a piece. The character of Harry Potter, and his journey to overcome Lord Voldemort, has been as personal a journey for me as it has been for him. So what this film represents is the end of a magical era, and it’s a sad one. Months later, as I rewatch the film on home video, its power and emotional strength are still very much there. What I am to do here is really take a hard look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the good and the bad, and give one last goodbye to The Boy Who Lived.Right away, in the opening three minutes, David Yates makes some brilliant decisions. First, even before the company logo, a quick, forty-second recap of Voldemort’s ‘win’, his possession of the Elder Wand, the moment where any audience member not knowing anything about the book will be thinking, ‘Oh, shit, Harry’s screwed.’ It reiterates the importance of the wand, and also provides a quick refresh for anyone who forgot a detail or two. Secondly, we open the film very somberly by concentrating on newly crowned Headmaster of Hogwarts Severus Snape. No dialogue, just a couple of lingering shots of Alan Rickman playing Snape to utter perfection. By all means, his expression gives off the impression of an emotionless man, but thanks to the brilliance of Rickman, you can just tell there’s something behind his eyes, something sad, something off-putting. Opening the final film on Snape is a stroke of genius, and it’s presented so utterly beautiful, I can’t imagine a better way to bring the series to an end. And, of course, in the same way this is Harry’s movie, this is also very much Snape’s movie. Everything about him and his allegiances and choices are revealed here, so it’s fantastic to see him get his due. The openings of these last two movies have been fantastic: showing the kids preparing to leave their homes, and giving the spotlight to the “bravest man” Harry has ever known.

The next twenty minutes fly by at a blink of an eye. Harry is given some extremely important information about wand lore and allegiances by Ollivander (John Hurt), exposition given in a very engaging manner (kudos to screenwriter Steve Kloves for making what could have been a dull scene into something strong and, in a way, creepy), and meets with Griphook, played by an scene-stealing Warwick Davis. From the midnight release to the writing of this piece, I remain completely impressed by Warwick. His performance of Griphook is nuanced, and actually reminds me of Rickman in his ability to create an odd discomfort during the silences between words. As much as I like the Harry/Olivander scene, Harry’s bargain with Griphook is an exchange that never fails to remain gripping. Then we break into Gringotts, and break out thanks to a very pissed off albino dragon. Here we find out an interesting piece of information concerning Harry and the Horcruxes, an element I’m 90% sure isn’t in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Harry can ‘sense’ the Horcruxes, an device that is highly beneficial in that it limits exposition and cuts down on time.

The liberties Kloves takes to make the identification and destruction of Horcruxes easier I actually have no problem with. Actually, I find it rather brilliant. Something that will be said a lot and deservedly so is that, in my humble opinion, this is Steve Kloves’ best script of the series. There are tiny moments that make such an impact, and the way he adapts Rowling’s work is, at times, a stroke of brilliance. Apologies for getting ahead of myself, but while I’m on the topic, two specific parts Kloves incorporates I love are: in the Room of Requirement, Harry asking Malfoy why he didn’t tell Bellatrix he recognized him [note: in the book, I believe Malfoy genuinely couldn’t recognize Harry under Hermione’s jinx, although I may be wrong], and during the background heavy scene with Alberforth in the book concerning Albus’ past mistakes, Kloves sums it up so brilliantly by Harry stating very plainly, “I don’t care what happened between you and your brother. I trusted the man I knew.” It addresses that element from the book without outright dismissing it, and reinforces Harry’s trust in people and his belief in Dumbledore. Great moments.
After the Horcrux has been recovered, Ralph Fiennes is permitted to let loose his insanity as he slaughters all the goblins at Gringotts (including poor double-crossing Griphook). Fiennes is extraordinary in chilling audiences with an untamed Lord Voldemort, angry beyond comprehension and lusting for blood. Intercutting Voldemort’s wrath at the bank with the trio’s fall into the lake is a pretty good move, accomplishing two things at once. This sets up the rest of the movie: Hogwarts. Harry, tapping into Voldemort’s mind, gets a clue or two about another Horcrux at Hogwarts and knows he needs to go back, and Voldemort realizes he needs to start checking on his Horcruxes and keeping his snake, Nagini, safe.

Here we come to the Alberforth scene. Caesar himself Ciaran Hinds gives a wonderful performance as Alberforth Dumbledore. Thanks to some of the best makeup work of the series, Hinds looks like an exact replica of Michael Gambon. By all accounts, these two actors are, as far as I’m concerned, brothers. Physically, the similarities are uncanny, and Hinds even gives a similar speech rhythm. The scene with the trio and Alberforth could have made the film drag, but surprisingly, it doesn’t at all. And thanks to Alberforth, this brings us to…

The return of Neville and Harry’s come back tour to Hogwarts! Poor Matthew Lewis has been on the sidelines for the majority of the series (although, to be fair, he’s been given some great moments, specifically in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix), but here he shines. Proactive, rebellious, mischievous, heroic – the buffoon the trio have grown accustomed to is no longer, instead replaced by an action hero, the leader of the Hogwarts resistance. Lewis shines during his speech to Voldemort, the perfect story beat for the character seven films in the making. Whatever his future prospects are, I sincerely hope Lewis continues to pursue acting. Deathly Hallows, Part 2 very much shines a light at the unsung heroes of the series: Snape, Neville and even Ron (c’mon, here’s given more to do here than ever before, I’d say).
Speaking of hero moments, Harry gets this AMAZING one when he walks out of an assembly and counters Snape, berating him in front of the students, and the remainder of the Order of the Phoenix arrive. It’s such a powerful, ‘Yeah Harry!’ moment. It’s like him being a rockstar, him saying, ‘I’m Harry Potter, dude, and I’m going to bring you and VoldeyFace down!’ On a more serious note, it's just a really powerful scene, Harry confidentially standing out amongst his peers and confronting Snape, and a minute later, that small exchange between Harry and McGonagall - another fantastic scene that makes me so completely happy seven movies later.From here on out, it's all war. And the only thing I'll mention about it, aside from the super obnoxious uber-dark coloring of the image (even the Blu-Ray is a tad too dark for my liking), is one minute and thirty seconds of awesomeness that amounts to what the CD track listings refer to as "Courtyard Apocalypse." The trio need to find Voldemort, and they run through the raging war happening around them to get to him. Alexandre Desplat is given full reign to make this sweeping, highly emotional sequence, effectively punching me in the stomach with its beauty, its chaos, its danger, and its adventure. The full feeling of war and its consequences are best represented in this minute and thirty seconds, I feel, than most of the other battle scenes. It's chilling, frankly. Another round of kudos and applause to director Yates and everyone on crew.

Now we fall into some super big sequences, and I’ll try to be as brief as possible:

- Harry goes to the Pensieve and Snape’s past, his choices, his allegiances, and his heroism is revealed. Some notes: Alan Rickman is magnificent. The editing is fantastic. The music is gorgeous. And the emotion is sweet, tragic, heartbreaking, and admiration. We fall in love with Snape and, in a way, condemn Dumbeldore’s betrayal. This scene is perfect, and the seconds when Harry comes out of the Pensieve I count as one of the most pitch-perfect, extraordinary moments of the entire damn series. Harry taken aback; Harry clutching his heart; Harry seemingly unfamiliar with his surroundings; Harry sitting down, the camera lingers from front and behind as this new information sinks in. Bloody terrific.

- The Resurrection Stone and the walk through the Forest. More of the best stuff the series has ever given. Not a single iota of a bad note here. Radcliffe shines.

- King’s Cross. Mostly good, but c’mon, what’s up with Harry saying “sir” and “Professor” to Dumbledore? By all rights, Harry should be FURIOUS. This man betrayed Harry, has, as Snape put it, been raising him as a lamb for slaughter. Dumbledore comes across as the biggest prick in the Potter universe at this precise moment, and Harry’s polite with this git? The book makes reference to Dumbeldore’s betrayal nearly being nothing compared to the news he had to die, but still, that bit of fiery, angry Harry from Order of the Phoenix should have come out and yelled at him. But instead the whole conversation is rather reserved, and doesn’t feel like it really goes anywhere. There should be talk about the Hallows, there should be a bigger emphasis on what Harry’s choosing to go back into, etc. A decent scene, but one that could have benefited from a greater emotional punch. That said, the withering, decaying piece of Voldemort’s soul was nothing short than awesome.

And the FINAL final battle begins! Harry and Voldemort locked in one hell of a brutal battle. Voldemort beats and punches Harry upwards and downwards. The brutality of their physical, wand-less battle is much appreciated, and adds to the heavy emotion of this final duel. This is the first time, really, that Harry and Voldemort just went crazy on one another. After all the shit that Voldemort’s done to Harry, after all the sacrifices, it’s just him and Voldemort. For Voldemort, all the rage of being thwarted by this young boy who possesses nowhere near the power that He does is given release. So it makes sense from a character and story point that Voldemort just doesn’t “Avada Kedavra!” Harry one last time, but instead decides to, dare I say, play with him. I fully applaud the choice to expand their battle, and it’s they hit so many right beats. Like one of the major departures from the book, when Harry and Voldemort are flying outside Hogwarts and crashing into the building, holding onto one another, their bodies become one. It’s one hell of an amazing visual, and it’s so completely perfect for this scene. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but it perfectly visualizes Harry’s inner struggle/question for the last three or four films: how much am I like Voldemort? How much of Voldemort is in me? Since Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s been asking that question – with the utmost fear – a lot. And here we get to see that. Of course, with the exception of the whole Horcrux business, the two couldn’t be more different, as mentioned by Dumbledore and many others quite often, but it’s a wonderful thing that thread is brought up again in the middle of this intense action sequence.

But that marvelous moment passes, and the two fall to the courtyard. What follows is two minutes of extraordinary magic: A) Harry and Voldemort face to face in the courtyard, down and dirty, unrelenting in their attack, B) Ron and Hermione attacking and subsequently running from Nagini, and C) Neville getting his ‘hero’ moment. Complimented by Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score and some terrific editing, this sequence of events is basically perfect. Now with Nagini gone, and the part of Voldemort’s soul in Harry has been obliterated, Harry is free to finish Voldemort off.
This is it. This is the moment. All seventeen years of Harry’s life comes down to this moment. And Voldemort, not understanding of what’s happening to his body, decides to ignore it, that he’s a more powerful wizard, and presses on. This monumental, gigantic, epic, emotional victory could have been one of the most spectacular, fist-in-the-air, ‘YES!’ yelling moments in cinema. Instead, it sorta comes off flat. And I think that sort of comes from a lack of coverage, of all things.

Yates’ penchant for wide shots serves him well when establishing locale and showing off the gorgeous set designs and scenery, but he fails to go in for the close-up when it would benefit him greatly. The battle at Hogwarts has many examples of this. The death of Fred would have more impact if his body wasn’t so obscured by his grieving family members. If we were given a shot of Fred’s lifeless body, head-on, it would be far more effective and emotional like the full shot of Lupin and Tonks, instead of coming across rather flat. Now in regards to Voldemort’s death, there are some medium shots, and then a close up of the Elder Wand flying out of his hand and then his disintegration. Composer Desplat does his best in making this the grand moment it ought to be, but I think by staying a bit too far away from Voldemort, from now getting close up to get that moment of ‘NOW he’s finished!’, they (sort of) robbed the audiences of this ginormous moment. Or, in a different scenario, Voldemort’s skin is cracking, Harry grabs the Elder Wand, and in one last spell, directs it at Voldemort, and Voldemort falls back, dead. Something that gives Harry the proper moment of victory, because right now, it honestly don’t feel like Harry delivered the final blow, and that’s an important part of any good guy vs. bad guy story, that final blow. As a friend of mine said, we needed that “final FUCK YOU, VOLDIE!”

Oh, and as a sidenote - because that's what this scene felt like - the Molly vs. Bellatrix was hugely disappointing. It's included in the film most likely because of fan demand, as is Molly's famous line, but it's presented here with all the passion of Rupert Grint enthusiastically kissing Emma Watson. Translation: none.

So I loved the battle. It was visually represented very beautifully, and the performances were extraordinary. But there was an emotional tie that was ultimately lacking. Unfortunately, it continues till the end of the film. Post-battle, in the partially demolished Great Hall, a moment that would have benefited hugely from jubilation, as in the book, instead feels awkward. After, what, 20 years in the timeline of Harry Potter, the wizarding world is free of Voldemort permanently? This is something that deserves celebration, that demands joy and yells of happiness and lots of pats on the backs and congratulations. I understand that Yates and crew wanted a more quiet, restrained, post-apocalypse stillness, but it just doesn’t work here. An element that could have helped it would be more naturalistic dialogue, instead of these awkward glances, hugs, and name giving. May feel right on paper, but it didn’t translate well.

And then the final scene on the bridge with our trio. Radcliffe has some great dialogue, and it was wonderful to have a scene with just the three of them, conquering heroes having survived a kill or be killed battle that decided the fate of the wizarding world. To just have these three is something extraordinary and brilliant. But that motherfrakking final shot. They’re posing. Hand in hand, posing. Not saying a bloody thing. Just standing there. On a bridge. I would have preferred a hug. It makes no sense. I can completely accept spells to give a soul a body, or instruments being vessels for aspects of a soul, or statues coming to life, but there is something wrong, awkward, and fake about these three standing there, not saying a thing, holding hands, and looking off in the distance. Don’t know if it’s just me, but it instantly pulled me out of whatever emotion that could have been grabbed from the scene, and just feels completely and utterly weird.

That said, I have no problem with the older Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, or Malfoy. The only nitpick I can give is that the quick Malfoy shot isn’t given any connection. Harry doesn’t glance at Malfoy or anything; the Malfoy shot literally is just thrown in there. Otherwise, fantastic final scene for the series, and a marvelous final shot. Harry’s happy and living the normal life. All is good.I could say a lot more, but then I'd feel like I'm babbling, so I'll conclude with this (and one kickass final poster that I desperately want to own):

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is basically great. It doesn’t lag, the music is thrilling, somber, and action-y, the editing gives the film an unrelenting pace, the action is intense, and the performances are magnificent. Like truly magnificent. Looking at the two halves as one film – something I hope to do one day – it’s definitely the series at its most confident. Kloves, Yates, Haymen, and Warner Bros. know this is their last one, their last chance to get it right, and everyone delivers, from the bottom of the production totem pole to whoever’s at the top. With the exception of the things I noted, I could not have asked for a better film, and that extends to the first part, as well. This movie delivers.

Rating: 9/10 = A fitting end to the HARRY POTTER saga, it's full of action, drama, twists and turns, and is must-see entertainment.

If you haven't already, watch this NOW (!), then rewatch the entire series from beginning to end. Months later, how do y'all feel about the final film?

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