Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Professor Albus Dumbledore: After all this time?
Professor Severus Snape: Always.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is nearly all adrenaline, jumping from one glorious action sequence to the next with grace and marvel. Here, David Yates’ direction is confident in a different way. It is clear he has a plan on how to end the series, that each important item on the checklist must be tackled with an exclamation point within two hours and ten minutes. Unlike its other half, “Part 2” is fast-paced, efficient, and filled with purpose. What results is a breathless final showdown between good and evil—between Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), The Boy Who Lived, and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), The Dark Lord.
The break-in gone wrong in Gringotts bank is a delicious early highlight. Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) must get into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), one of Voldemort’s most ardent followers, to acquire and destroy another Horcrux. Unbeknownst to the trio, defenses are in place against thieves, one of which involving a fully grown dragon trained to recoil when it hears a specific sound.
It is beautiful to watch because although spells are cast and explosions abound, details about the dragon stand out—the thickness of the shackles around its feet, the massive welts on its skin, the specific stance it takes when it is about to breathe fire. This level of detail reminded me of “Sorcerer’s Stone,” how director Chris Columbus employs the camera in order for viewers to have the opportunity to study the aura, the look, and the personality of its goblin bank teller.
“Hogwarts has changed,” according to Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) as he welcomes Harry and his friends to their school now led by Headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Prior to “Deathly Hallows,” we have seen the look of Hogwarts evolve, from golden glow optimism (“Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Chamber of Secrets”) to blue-gray dungeon-like cloister where centuries of dark secrets and knowledge reside (“Half-Blood Prince”). But never has the school looked so severe, so devoid of life, joy, and merriment. Students are forced to march in unison. No spirited chattering. Even ghosts roam the halls no longer. Hogwarts resembles a prison, plagued with Death Eaters and Dementors. Simply showing the Hogwarts as a place of oppression adds so much to the urgency of the story. We feel as though our own home has been desecrated.
Due to the hunt for the Horcruxes being front and center, there is minimal room for potentially curious strands. There are two of note. The first is the introduction of Albus Dumbledore’s brother named Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds). Not only is his vibe so different from Albus (Michael Gambon), their relationship comes across rather strained. According to Aberforth, Albus was once so hungry for power. But what of the specifics? I fear that those who have not read the novel might be lost in regard to the complexities of this familial connection.
The second is the seemingly sudden change that occurs within Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), Draco’s mother, when it comes to her allegiance to The Dark Lord. Because we have only a surface understanding of this character’s motivations, namely in “Half-Blood Prince,” her decisions impact the plot development in key ways, but her complexity as a character fails to translate. This is a mistake because I believe the screenplay by Steve Kloves wishes to draw parallels between Lily Potter and Narcissa Malfoy, what both mothers are willing to do to save their sons from corruption and doom.
On the rare instance that “Part 2” slows down, observe how compelling the film becomes. A late standout involves Harry looking into the Pensieve as Snape’s motivation behind his actions is revealed. This intimidating Potions teacher who seemed to despise Harry from the moment their eyes met in “Sorcerer’s Stone” is proven to be a tragic figure, a man who must somehow continue to live after he feels he’d lost everything he cherished. When the picture sets the war aside for a few minutes and focuses inward, it proves capable of making us think and reconsider. This is magic that cannot be summoned by CGI.
Despite a few limitations, “Part 2” remains to be terrific entertainment, a worthy closing entry to a monumental series filled with memorable personalities, curious creatures, laughter, adventures, and wonder. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels are tremendously successful because she approached her story, characters, and the audience with respect. As a whole, I feel as though the screenwriters and directors chose to follow her example. Consequently, we are gifted with an all-time great film series that I have no doubt will still be talked about a hundred years into the future.