Monday, July 18, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part II *** ½
Directed by: David Yates.
Written by: Steve Kloves based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Warwick Davis (Griphook / Professor Filius Flitwick), John Hurt (Ollivander), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Kelly Macdonald (Helena Ravenclaw), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Ciarán Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom),  Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall), Jim Broadbent (Professor Horace Slughorn), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), Emma Thompson (Professor Sybil Trelawney), Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter),  Adrian Rawlins (James Potter), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black).

After 10 years, and 8 movies, the Harry Potter franchise has finally come to an end. What is remarkable about the franchise is how consistent it was. I’m not sure I would call any one movie in the series a truly great film, and yet, as a series, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, not all the movies are as good as the best in the series, but there isn’t one of them I wouldn’t gladly watch again – and it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly I get wrapped up in one of the movies when I come across it on TV. Certainly there are “flaws” in the movies, but overall I find it extraordinary that all 8 movies turned out to be at the very least very good. This is after all in an age where most movie series lose steam in by their third entry.

This last chapter in the Harry Potter franchise is among the best in the series – an is certainly the most exciting chapter. Eliminating the need for setup or explanations, because that was all done in Deathly Hallows Part I, this movie simply dives right in full force into the story. Almost all of it save for a couple brief side trips to start the movie – happens all in the course of one night at Hogwarts. Harry knows the final horcrux is there, so he Ron and Hermione head to their old school, and are terrified to discover what Headmaster Snape has done to the place. Voldemort finds out pretty quickly that Harry is there, and he and his minions descend on the great castle. What follows is a battle royale between good and evil – which of course climaxes where Harry and Voldemort finally go toe to toe with each other.

The film works because of what we know from the other movies. I always felt that someone stepping into any of the previous movies without any knowledge of Harry Potter could follow the plot – sure they’d miss some of the nuances, but they’d get it. I don’t think the same can be said about this final installment. Director David Yates (who took over the reins for the fifth movie, and hasn’t looked back) dives headlong into the action in this movie, and really never lets up. Some of the movies feels almost like a “greatest hits” collection, as we spot major characters from previous installments in the background, even though they aren’t really given anything to do. If you don’t already know their back stories, or their motivations, for the most part you won’t discover them here – the movie simply moves too quickly to really pay attention.

Having said that, the film works remarkably well. I think one of the reasons they hired Yates, a TV veteran, for the fifth film and kept with him, is because as this series moved along, and the plots became more complex and intertwined, they needed someone who could look at the bigger picture across hours of screen time – someone like a TV director. And this is the installment where it really pays off. Yates, who has improved his visual prowess with each entry, here has crafted an extremely exciting, fast paced action film. The emotional moments hit hard, because of what we know before we walked into the theater. The special effects, art direction, costumes and music are typically top notch. This is easily the most exciting chapter in the series, and the best one directed by Yates.

And finally, there are the performances. By now, these actors have spent so long playing these characters, that they could do so in their sleep. But no one does. Daniel Radcliffe, who has grown tremendously as an actor, really is excellent in the lead role. And Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are fine as his sidekicks. Michael Gambon is quite good, once again, as Dumbledore, and Alan Rickman finally gets to give Snape a soul. Best of all, of course, is Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, who seems to relish every moment he gets to play every child’s worst nightmare.

Now that the series is over, I can admit that I’m really going to miss it. I think the first two installments suffered a little bit from coming out the same years as the first two Lord of the Rings movies – and they weren’t nearly as good as Peter Jackson’s epic. But now, they have certainly stepped out that shadow, and the series can stand as one of the best sustained series’ in movie history. I can’t believe I’ll never step into a theater to see a new Harry Potter movie again.

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