BOTTOM LINE: Epic.
Every critic is allowed at least one freebie — one film or TV show or book that triggers a purely emotional response, entirely resistant to logic and objectivity. While I may not make a living criticising anything, I’d still like to think I take a critic’s approach to the reviews I post here. As a result, I feel no guilt or embarrassment admitting that Harry Potter is my freebie.
I’ve devoured everything Potter-related for the past 14 years of my life. Ever since that fateful September day in 1997 when our school librarian sat my third grade class down and started reading the first book out loud, I’ve been obsessed with the series. I lived on Harry Potter fansites and chat rooms. I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction. I went to Harry Potter conventions. Hell, I even have a Harry Potter tattoo (and I’m planning another one… and maybe more after that).
Book fanatics such as myself usually take one of two perspectives when it comes to the films: 1) anything associated with Harry Potter is flawless, and thus the films are masterpieces, and 2) the films are a load of shit because they don’t even come close to doing the story justice. All my life I’ve been of the latter-minded group. I hated every single one of the movies with a burning passion, even while I made plans to see them at midnight months in advance.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II made me realise the error of my ways.
I was smart enough not to reread the book beforehand and, as a result, was able to enjoy the movie without constantly feeling the need to complain about something the filmmakers left out. I can’t speak for other moviegoers, but in my opinion, director David Yates did a fantastic job making HPDH2 a standalone film (the best of the series, by far) that works within the broader context of a two-part project and the even broader context of an eight-film series. HPDH2 is jam-packed with non-stop action but doesn’t sacrifice the pivotal lines, scenes, and emotions that made the last book so heartwrenching. As far as I’m concerned, it’s as close to a perfect movie as we’re going to get this year.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the 2 or 3 people on this planet who haven’t read the books.
I’m not sure if the plot needs rehashing, but basically HPDH1 left off with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) burying Dobby after he died in the process of helping them escape from Malfoy Manor. The final scene shows Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) opening Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) tomb and stealing the Elder Wand (one of the three Deathly Hallows). The second film starts here and jumps right into the story, with Harry striking a deal with Griphook (Warwick Davis) to get them into Gringotts so they can find a Horcrux in Bellatrix Lestrange’s (Helena Bonham-Carter) vault in exchange for the Sword of Gryffindor. Griphook betrays them and leaves them there to die, but they escape and head to Hogwarts to find the final Horcruxes. There, Harry finds comfort in his old friends (almost all of the cast members from the previous films are back) as he and the rest of Hogwarts prepare to fight the final battle against Voldemort and his followers.
HPDH2 is, in short, epic. It’s stunning, it’s ambitious, it’s grand in every sense of the word. Each aspect of the film — from the visual effects to the score to the editing — is breathtaking, a spectacular work of art in and of itself. The fight scenes are remarkable in their scope. The cinematography and camera angles meticulously steer the viewer through the film, drawing back for remarkable wide shots of Hogwarts and the Scottish landscape when we’re supposed to feel swooping, breathless elation or fear and tightening on the actors during the intimate moments. The result is a rollercoaster of emotion that barrels through every turn and throws itself down every drop, but still slows down at all the right moments.
With a cast comprised of pretty much every famous living British actor, it’s hard to go wrong on the acting front. The kids have improved beyond recognition since their Goblet of Fire days. HPDH2 pulls out all the stops with its cast, bringing back nearly every actor from the past seven films. It’s such a delight to see the likes of McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith), Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), Trelawney (Emma Thompson), and others return that it’s not too difficult to forgive the gratuitous inclusion of Cho Chang (Katie Leung).
The script is solid, although it takes a back seat to the visual experience. I’m sure several key scenes were unceremoniously left on the cutting room floor, but the final version of the film is still a coherent and respectful adaptation of the book. All the iconic scenes (Neville cutting off Nagini’s head will definitely draw cheers) and lines (wait for “Always” and “Not my daughter, you bitch!”) are left intact, so Potter fans can breathe a sigh of relief. And I daresay epilogue haters might even enjoy the movie’s take on the-chapter-that-shall-not-be-named — it’s equal parts ridiculous and touching.
The best scenes are the escape from Gringotts, the first leg of the final battle, Snape’s death, and the trip into the Pensieve. I am partial to everything Snape-related, though, so maybe I’m a teeny bit biased. Honestly, though, everything is fantastic. It’s worth seeing more than once, although probably not in 3D, which lent absolutely nothing to the film.
Thank you to everyone involved in this film for ending my childhood on a high note. You helped make a bitter good-bye a little easier to bear.