Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, 2011, dir. David Yates

Unsurprisingly, the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is one massive climax from start to finish. What else did anyone expect? Part one heroically bit the bullet and allowed itself to bear the weight of the novel’s filler, martyr-like, so that part two could act like an unrelenting, two-hour-and-change action scene in which people die at a sustained clip and things– all manor of things, from statues to buildings to bridges to, again, people– explode in grand, dazzlingly colorful fashion. Oh, and of course the eight-film franchise finally, maybe simultaneously tragically and mercifully, comes to an end as Harry confronts his destiny and faces enemy of all Voldemort in a sorcerous showdown.

All of the issues that dogged the first half are completely absent here. Unlike part one, part two is determined to ensure you will never, ever be bored at any point, even the quiet talky points where Harry has to learn something important about the past to move forward into the future and continue fighting against You-Know-Who and his legion of grim, bedraggled, power-hungry, black-garbed Death Eaters. I mean, the film starts off with a heist in a goblin bank vault that ends in a chase scene staged on the back of a furious albino dragon– proof that Deathly Hallows II isn’t fooling around from the get-go. There’s only so much necessary build up to this sequence and the moments that follow, and rightly so. All of the build-up happened in November. We’re not at that point anymore. The rising action has been supplied, therefore the time of climax and falling action is at hand.

One could argue, though, that the entire series has just been one large build-up to this final two hour segment, and that the climaxes of each individual book in the saga are just part of the dramatic process. And, being perfectly honest, that’s exactly the case; everything that’s happened in the story since the first film, hell, the first novel, just served to lead audiences up to the triumphant final moments of the story. All of the tragedy, horror, laughter, love, and thrills brought us here. With Deathly Hallows p2 in the books, there’s a natural desire to look back over the novels and the movies in total and take in the whole scope of the combined franchises. Really, Harry Potter‘s success– as product and as art– can be attributed to how the people who set the books and movies in motion held the line, from J.K. Rowling, who put pen to paper more than a decade ago and created a worldwide literary phenomenon that hasn’t really been matched since, to Christopher Columbus, who couldn’t have known just how perfect his casting choices were at the time of the first movie’s production in 2001. Make no odds about it, it’s kind of incredible to reflect on how we got to Deathly Hallows II and thoroughly sobering to realize that after fourteen years, it’s all over, said and done.

But I’m getting off-course, since, after all, there’s a film to review and discuss the finer points of. Anyone who, after reading to this point, has surmised that I rather enjoyed Deathly Hallows II is right on the money. Where I thought the first half had issues and got bogged down by the massive amount of set-up and exposition required to lead into the second, part 2 feels leaner and trimmer (even at the 120 minute mark), unfettered by the need to do the amount of legwork necessary to earn the climatic battle that takes up the second of the film’s two hour run time. (And I suppose that that makes me look more favorably on part 1, in retrospect.) Deathly Hallows II goes big and sticks the landing for the series, providing a wildly satisfying payoff to our ten year journey with Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the innumerable other characters we’ve come to know along the way.

Picking up where the first Hallows installment left off, Harry (Radcliffe) and his friends (Watson, Grint) continue their mission to locate and destroy the fragments of Voldemort’s (Fiennes) soul in their bid to destroy Harry’s nemesis and save the wizarding world from the Dark Lord’s tyranny. There’s not much time wasted before director David Yates (who, with the director’s credit on half of the Potter movies, is almost as much a mainstay in the series as Radcliffe himself) kicks things into high gear and sends our heroes on a quest that literally takes them high and low to find the nefarious Horcruxes (the aforementioned bank vault/dragon scene); even with all of the explanatory dialogue out of the way, Yates has a destination for his cast, crew, and audiences to reach and he intends to get them there together with all speed.

It’s not long before the stage is set for the massive action set piece that defines the last hour of the Potter pictures, and there’s no debating it– it’s a battle for the ages, a triumph of FX that remains character driven at its heart, even in the midst of living swaths of flame, enormous spiders, giants, living statues, and of course the requisite wizard duels. Even taking into account the sheer engrossing and jaw-dropping spectacle of Hallows‘ gargantuan third act magical melee, Yates’ greatest feat lies in his knack for making the extravaganza all about the characters. Never once does the film place more emphasis on the action than on Harry, and even the side characters are treated with more reverence than errant explosions and spell effects; they all represent our emotional investment in the story, after all, and the film’s best, most gripping moments come down to seeing them react to the carnage around them.

Earlier, I talked about the forces behind the Harry Potter phenomenon holding the line, and no one area bests represents the importance of their decision to stick with the cast of kids we first met in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. I remember that at one point it actually looked as though Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint would end up being replaced (about halfway through the series, if memory serves), and we’d have to grow comfortable with a whole new trio of leads. It’s impossible to overstate how lucky we are as viewers that that never transpired; instead, we’ve been treated with watching these actors grow up before our eyes and come to deeply care for them as a result. Harry, Hermione, and Ron represent our greatest emotional anchors in the Potterverse, and as each young actor melts into their roles and truly become their respective characters in Hallows II, our bond to them has never been stronger. The usual cast of veteran actors– from Ciaran Hinds, playing brother to Michael Gambon’s luminous and endlessly wise Dumbledore, to Ralph Fiennes, who goes big, broad, and bold with his portrayal of Voledemort to great effect– leave their own impressions, but it’s the youths who we’ll remember the most.

Years from now– or perhaps sooner– Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II may well be seen as the best entry in the whole of the franchise. If nothing else, it might prove to be one of the most successful end pieces to a film series. Yates and his cast have outdone themselves here, yielding a picture that’s made with impressive craftsmanship and supported by sterling, emotional acting. I admit that in spite of my elation I feel slightly bittersweet over having to bid farewell to this universe after spending so much time here, but I’m grateful for the time that I had at Hogwarts, and look forward to revisiting these pictures many times over in the future. Bon voyage, Harry– it’s been a blast.

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12 thoughts on “Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, 2011, dir. David Yates

  1. I dont know if I have time to do this reply justice. What a great review. Saw you had swung by and I was like, oh yeah, did he chime in on Harry Potter yet? Great Great summation man.

    “Part one heroically bit the bullet and allowed itself to bear the weight of the novel’s filler, martyr-like” -exactamundo.

    I don’t think we’re going to need to wait years, this is easily the best entry in this series. The only thing that could be held against it is that it relies so much on the set up of the other movies, you know, if this movie opened tomorrow and there had never been any previous ones people would call it all flash and no substance. Not that there’s not some, but… so much of it is what the audience already knows or feels… what they bring forward from the others.

    But yeah, great write up… the biggest selling point of the movie IS the “jaw-dropping spectacle of Hallows‘ gargantuan third act magical melee” 100% right.

    • Thanks a lot, Fogs. I actually didn’t think I would get the chance to see this for another two weeks (and change), since my wife prefers avoiding theaters on opening weekends for pictures like this, but Sunday was brutally hot and we figured it would be better to hang out in an air conditioned theater than try to find a spot at the beach amongst hordes of over-heated water seekers.

      I agree with the third paragraph completely, though I’m not totally willing to call this the best of the series yet– Azkaban is stiff competition. But it’s easily one of the two best for sure, I think. But anyway, these movies absolutely require that audiences bring something forward from each film (the first being the exception of course) in order to maintain investment. Without that there’s no way to fully appreciate them.

      • Thank you, PG.

        Good review on your part, too, but I disagree strongly with the dual notions that the acting is neither good nor important to the overall effect of the story, and I don’t understand why any comparison need be made between a cast whose leads are child actors and a cast whose leads comprise some of the best actors working today. Radcliffe’s accomplished for his age but cannot hope to stand up to Viggo or Sir Ian; stacking the former to the latter can’t lead to anything but a perception of the former being inferior.

        That said I agree that most any romantic beats are duds due to a lack of appropriate between the actors, notably Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright, who is quite bad in each of her appearances in the franchise.

  2. Excellent review Andrew. I totally agree that the continuity in the cast was a major part in the success of the entire franchise. Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have become iconic playing these characters and for better or for worse, they will remain etched into the history book of popular culture as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.

    This is definitely the best Harry Potter movie in the franchise IMO and I already look forward to watching Harry Potter 7.1 and 7.2 in the same viewing.

    • Yes! Me too. I really want to watch these in succession.

      Can you imagine how this series would be received if our principle child actors had been rotated out at the halfway mark? I really think that that decision, had it come to pass, would have been kind of crippling for the rest of the films. I simply cannot imagine having the same kind of emotional investment in the rest of the series in that scenario; sure, I think I could warm up to the new actors, but it wouldn’t be the same.

      • Absolutely, it certainly would have killed it for me. Most of the charm of this saga was watching the kids grow up and mature into their role.

  3. YES!!!!!!!! A shout out to Alan Rickman as Snape. SO DAMN GOOD. This is the best of the series and a future classic maybe also.

    • Rickman is my favorite actor in the entire series. I don’t know how I didn’t mention him here, but his big moment– the flashbacks– won’t leave you with dry eyes at all, here.

  4. Absolutely, Alan Rickman was amazing. It was refreshing to see him performing such highly emotional scenes and certainly brought me to tears. Poor Snape 😦
    It’s definitely the best film of the whole series, followed by the Order of the Phoenix, which had been my favourite film up until this last epic piece.
    I will truly miss Harry Potter and all his friends, but all good things must come to an end. I very much hope there won’t be any silly ‘spin off’ films or trying to continue the story with the children we see at the end. Let it remain as a wonderful epic series of books and films loved by millions worldwide, and lets not ruin this magic.

    • I don’t think Rowling will allow her universe to be tainted with spin-offs or reboots or anything of that sort. Grant that I don’t really know how much say she has over this stuff, but as the author of the original texts I would wager she’s got enough influence to shut that sort of nonsense down hard and fast. I agree with your sentiment completely.

  5. Pingback: 2011: Retrospective, Awards, & ACVF’s Top 15 (Pt.1) « A Constant Visual Feast

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