Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, 2011.
Directed by David Yates.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Warrick Davis, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith.
Hogwarts is under attack by Voldemort’s evil forces as the Harry Potter franchise (finally) draws to a close.
“First row? Is that all you’ve got?” I asked naively the Wednesday after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II / 7B’s release. Not only that, but quite far to the left, too. It’s a long film, and the human neck has yet to evolve for a cinema on Orange Wednesdays.
The theatre was packed to capacity, and there was an almost tangible mixture of emotions filling the air. People were excited, of course, for the franchise’s climax. But there was also a huge sense of inevitable loss, of bittersweet bon voyage. A lot of youngsters’ childhoods were about to end.
Personally, I’ve never quite understood the Harry Potter films. The books, sure, I love ‘em - but the films never captured me the way it has done so many others. I can appreciate Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s a genuinely good film, and Deathly Hallows: Part I / 7A was nice and dark, but the franchise’s acting has always prevented any actual emotional investment. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) performs with her eyebrows, and not in a Jack Black-way, whilst Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) is utterly unconvincing. It’s something in his voice. He seems to deliver all as though stuck in some desperate A-Level drama. The adult cast are spot-on, but they only make for light relief.
However, this is meant to be a review of the franchise’s last instalment, not the series entire. But such is rendered impossible by 7B’s disregard of anyone who hasn’t seen the previous films. The argument is, of course, that anyone watching the eighth instalment in a franchise without seeing the others is asking for a little confusion. But this is an ‘event’ film. How about opening on a five-minute television-style catch-up, a montage detailing the epic mythology of Harry Potter? It would be corny, but it would certainly make the main attraction feel even more special. And if that was deemed a television aesthetic, unworthy of the larger screen, then why not present the catch-up in an animation similar to the ‘Tale of Three Brothers’ scene in 7A? Seven previous films is a lot to take in and remember. Such an opening would ease understanding of what is at stake and the various character motivations, even for the die-hard fans (the ones that call Severus Snape “Hans Gruber”).
As for the film itself - it’s a war movie. Hogwarts, the school in which our heroes were nurtured, is under attack by Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) forces. After an opening robbery of Gringotts bank (you know, the most secure place in the magic world, their Fort freaking Knox - into which they practically waltz, Harry, Ron and Hermione arrive at Hogwarts to help their fellow classmates and faculty of teachers. They attempt to find the last Horcruxes (objects containing fragments of Voldemort’s soul, which, while still existing, render him immortal) and destroy him. That’s all 130 minutes of it.
Which is good. That’s a healthy length for a conclusion so large and poignant. The characters with whom we have grown up and love should be allowed time to depart from our lives, and, in some cases, theirs. But they aren’t, and this is the huge structural flaw of 7B.
Siege warfare movies work best when different sub-plots are intercut with the main. It’s called parallel editing (cross-cutting), and is where the film jumps between various events happening at the same time. It creates tension as they all build towards a climax. Now, this is how 7B should have been structured; showing Harry trying to find Voldemort; then a scene between Ron and Hermione looking for a Horcrux; followed by Lupin, Professor McGonagall and the Weasleys defending a part of the school; etc. This would give the characters a chance to breathe and connect with the audience rather than a sudden, muted shot of the occasional death. The adult cast would be given a lot more time this way, diluting the poor ‘child’ acting.
It appears as though the most boring thing about the films of Harry Potter is Harry Potter himself. The coolest elements, however, are when the adults and teachers jump into action and bust out their magical chops. For a kid in real life, parents and teachers are boring. They hardly ever perform anything of excitement. But when they do, without embarrassing the child, their perceived monotony is shattered. When one’s father stands up to someone; when a family friend recalls a story about the things they and your parents used to get up to; when a teacher would perform some awesome personal skill in assembly on the last day before summer holiday. Such notions are teased throughout the franchise of its adult characters, and sometimes they are let loose. What 7B needed was an equivalent of The Clone Wars’ mass Jedi battle. Instead, after a few opening skirmishes, 7B almost exclusively follows Potter’s narrative. Fair enough, it’s the main plot and all, but jeez does it drag.
Which is a lot of negativity for a film that is actually really rather enjoyable. The women either side of me were gently sobbing in that packed theatre, as were many others behind. On occasion, they would audibly bawl. It’s certainly effective but it could have been a great film if it followed the solidity of the instalment before it (7A). There’s always a sense that the film is only emotional because it’s the end, rather than being actually any good.
7B’s main merit, however, is Voldemort. You never really see him on top before this film. He’s always grumpy with something, or killing some poor Death Eater. There’s a moment in 7B, though, when Voldemort kinda thinks he’s got it won. He’s there, in the grounds of Hogwarts, strolling back and forth across his army, cracking wise against Harry and all those fighting for him. The words he spits, and the tone in which he hisses them, are those of a jock in an American High School film. He’s humiliating the nerd before the entire school, and he’s in his element. It works for three reasons. 1) Fiennes does a great Voldemort. 2) Harry Potter and the rest of the child cast feature very little for most of it. 3) Voldemort, as a character, is exposed for what he really is. He’s a cocky jerk, a bully, a brat. And all the while, when he believes he is at his strongest, dramatic irony conspires against him. We know he’ll get his desserts.
Before this, Hogwarts had always shown itself as the home of our protagonists. It’s the place that sheltered Harry from his family situation, and brought the magic out of them all. But 7B shows Hogwarts is also the natural environment for Voldemort. It means a lot to him, you can tell. Unfortunately, Neville (Matthew Lewis) ruins it with some truly appalling acting. Nonetheless, Voldemort’s bravado is almost the best moment of the franchise.
But one more tops it; brief in its delivery, but brilliant because of its insignificance. As they fight on top of Hogwarts, Harry calls Voldemort “Tom”. For once, Radcliffe gets the delivery spot on, and the name cuts Voldemort deep. His real name is an insult. What could be more disrespectful than calling a teacher by his real name rather than ‘Sir’? At least those at Hogwarts had earned respect. Voldemort commands his ‘Lord’ status through fear. Throughout all eight films, even near the end of this one, characters are still afraid to speak Voldemort’s name. It’s a sign of the terror he has instilled in all. Yet this arrogant teenager calls him “Tom”, and it hurts his pride worse than any Avada Kedavra.
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