Moments after I saw the very first trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was crawling with goosebumps and plagued with anxiety. After almost a decade, the franchise was coming to an end. I had already read the book, knew the plotting, and remembered the fates of all the characters, but the trailer left me in a near unfathomable state -- the end was coming, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Picking up practically the exact moment where the first half of the left off, the film begins with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) still on the trail for the elusive Horcruxes that make up Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) soul. Rather quickly, it becomes apparent that the group will need to travel back to Hogwarts, and it is there that the final battle to determine the fate of the wizarding community, and the world at large, begins.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a fitting finale for one of the best and most consistent series of the past decade. It is a simply wondrous spectacle that extends and concludes the story wonderfully. While the story and effects are just as great as always, it is the final battle we have all been waiting for that delivers in spades. It is everything you imagined it would be and more. Splitting the films may still be a debatable decision, but the film is able to stand on its own much the same way the previous part did. It is that good, and that gripping. It may be the shortest Harry Potter film, but it is also the only one that feels like it knows exactly where it wants to navigate itself to with each new scene.
Grint, Watson and especially Radcliffe are simply stunning in their performances. They have grown up with these characters, and have gotten progressively stronger as actors with each new film. But here, they have totally immersed themselves into their roles, and the results are nothing short of magical. They are exactly how you remember them written in the book, and move from sadness, to courageous, to fearful, and more, with such passion and conviction that you forget they are simply acting. Their styles are that strong, and help provide the emotional crux the film leans on and never from.
Even with their varying screen times, the supporting cast is impeccable as always. Alan Rickman is spectacular and simply devastating as the devious Professor Snape. Maggie Smith finally gets some real time to shine as Professor McGonagall, as does Julie Walters as Molly Weasley (who gets the greatest line in the film). Jason Isaacs, Helena Bonham Carter, George Harris, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon and Matthew Lewis also perfect their characters, and help deliver awesome performances all around.
But the supporting screen time is dominated by Fiennes as Voldemort. When Harry and his friends are not the focal point, Fiennes simply owns everyone. His performance always ranked amongst the best of the series, and he does not let the finale slow him down. He is horrifically evil in his interpretation, and frequently compares to his absolutely and terrifyingly brilliant performance as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. The fear that courses through the characters' veins at the very sight or mention of his name, courses equally through the audience. Even when he is being darkly hilarious, Fiennes is downright petrifying. He is the stuff that nightmares are made of. His work is just that close to perfect in the role that it gives an almost genuine authenticity that should not come so effortlessly.
But like all Harry Potter films however, the cohesive product is not without its faults.
My main gripe with the film come out of the sheer fact that because it was split off into two parts, it allowed some of the more useless and careless sections of prose to make it into the film. Much like the extended and excruciatingly long camping trip from the first half, the second half gets dragged down by the addition of standout moments from the book that felt awful the first time you read them, and come off even worse on the screen. I know they are pandering to the audience, and adding just as much as they possibly could to make the film feel complete, but there was a reason so much was cut out of the other books when they made the leap to the big screen. This is the shortest of the saga by a long shot, and the chaotic pace makes it feel like it could have been even shorter had they chopped more out.
My other gripe is the 3D. The filmmakers said they did not have the right amount of time to convert the first half properly, so they just scrapped the plans. The movie looked amazing anyway, and I found myself puzzled at what exactly would have been three-dimensional about it about the second part. Save for a scene early on involving a rather badly rendered dragon, there is not much else that takes advantage of the added 3D. The majority of the film just looks and acts normal, never exploring the format, and never giving the audience a reason to care or change their minds on the quickly dying trend.
In what feels like a blink of the eye, the Harry Potter film series is over. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has arrived, and with it, an incredible end to the franchise. It stumbles in some places because of the inane and disappointing prose of the book, but the filmmakers have stayed true to their book and film fans, and delivered a tremendously worthy finale. It is one of the strongest films of the year, and one of the best film finales ever conceived.
(An extended review also appeared on http://www.geekspeakmagazine.com).
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