Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

by Trey Hock on July 15, 2011

in Print Reviews

How do you conclude a fourteen-year literary and cinematic legacy? Well if you’re director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves and the movie is “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” then you make sure to toe the literary line, not wanting to excite or offend. This results in a film that is nearer a whisper than a bang.

“Deathly Hallows 2″ follows up one the best films in the series. “Deathly Hallows 1″ was a moody emotional film that took the best portions of the first half of book seven and made them personal. It was a setup film similar to “LOTR: The Two Towers” or “The Empire Strikes Back,” and was left purposefully unfinished.

I thought going into “Deathly Hallows 2″ that I would get knocked down by the volume and action hinted at by “Part 1.” Instead I got a surprisingly quiet film that dutifully moves from plot point to plot point as needed to fulfill the desires of Harry Potter book readers. It makes more a visual companion to the final book and less a film that can stand on its own.

“Deathly Hallows 2″ does do a number of things well. It hits the ground running exactly where we left off with nary a pre-title tease and little recap. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his companions are still looking for horcruxes. Their adventure takes them to the depths of the wizarding bank, Gringotts, before returning them to the familiar halls of Hogwarts.

Alan Rickman, who I feel was often underused in the earlier films, again reprises his role as Severus Snape. His nuanced performance makes the most of his limited screen time, and adds depth to this complex character. One of the more emotionally successful moments in the film is a montage of interactions between Snape, Dumbeldore (Michael Gambon), and Harry.

Amazing and magical things happen onscreen, and it would be difficult to oversell the technological achievement. The 3D was effective, tactful, and adds depth without distraction. The smoke effects in particular are dazzling, and there is a transition into and out of the invisibility cloak, as well as a number of action scenes that I thought used the 3D well.

Overall, it seems the decision to strip down “Deathly Hallows – Part 1″ to its bare essentials, which gave us an emotional drama as well as a magical fantasy, did not carry over to “Deathly Hallows – Part 2″ Often, “Part 2″ seems overburdened with stuff, which distracts from the emotional journey of the few main characters.

I understand why they would want to insert every minute detail. I have read each book in the series, and went so far as to reread all of them in order to brush up for the eighth film. In spite of this, I can say that “Deathly Hallows – Part 2″ relies too heavily on a viewer’s knowledge of the books, not only for clever asides or minor digressions, but also for large pieces of the story.

By cramming the screen full of stuff that relies on the book for development or understanding, Yates doesn’t give certain characters or struggles the needed onscreen emphasis. When the battles happen and heroes or villains fall or rise victorious, Yates hasn’t given us enough build or setup. The scenes then lack the emotional punch that these particular moments deserve. It makes a film that’s good, but not great.

Will anything that I write in this review have any bearing on whether you will love or hate “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2?” Probably not. Most of the audience will have made up their minds about whether they will enjoy this piece of Potter-phernalia two or three films ago, and in this case that’s okay by me. It’s an alright film that doesn’t aspire to much more than making the words on the page into pictures, and commits no cinematic injustices. It could have been better, but it’s not bad.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 rptilenin July 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

Trey, Eric and whoever,

Did you find the climactic last battle to be rather anti-climactic?

I agree with your point about relying too heavily on the book to provide the subtext for what was happening, but if there was any part of the book that deserved a literal translation on the screen, it was the final battle.

They didn’t even give Harry the hero’s monologue that he deserved after all this time. It did not bring his character full circle; the too humble pre-teen who downplayed his gift and preferred to give credit to others; the broody teen, defiant to authority and who questioned his own abilities; and finally the man who accepts his fate and transforms into the aggressor who actively seeks out and confronts his antagonist.

By simply jumping from plot point to plot point, they failed to capture the true depth of the character. It was a 3D movie with 2D characters.

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2 rptilenin July 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

***SPOILER ALERT***
(You all know how it ends, but I don’t want to give away how it is portrayed on screen, so reader, ye be warned.)

***SPOILER ALERT***
***SPOILER ALERT***

Instead in the end we got the visual re-creation of the graveyard battle from Goblet of Fire where the wands lock, Harry’s overpowers Voldemort’s and then Voldemort melts into a puddle like the Wicked Witch.

Even the sold-out tweener crowd that we watched this movie with sensed the lameness of this ending, the same crowd who treated every other plot point (e.g. Mrs. Weasly calling Bellatrix a ‘bitch’ and taking her down, Ron saving Harry in the forest) cheering and whooping at the screen like they were at a Justine Beaver concert. Crickets when Harry finally vanquished Voldemort.

It was a huge letdown because even though I, like most other fans, know what’s coming, we can still be moved by the on-screen portrayal. For example, I was moved by the Snape sequence in the book and the sequence in the movie made me feel feelings. On the other hand, when I read the final battle in the book, it almost seemed as if Rowling had written it for the big screen, like she was already penning the screenplay. We all just sat there in the theater and took it.

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3 Eric Melin July 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

rptilenin-

Did I find the climactic last battle to be rather anti-climactic? ABSOLUTELY. It was rushed, just like everything else in the film. A friend described the battle in the book to me after I saw the film, and I just kept thinking – How could they not film that???

(BTW, Mrs. Weasly calling Bellatrix a ‘bitch’ was lame. Apparently that was a big deal in the book, but totally bungled in the movie and over way too fast.)

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4 Jimmy July 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

Contrary to the popular belief I think they nailed this one above all others. Daniel portrayed the Harry I was looking for for 7 movies before; the resolute, determined hero. His decision to go into the forest was slow enough as to drive that emotion home. The Snape story was amazing, seeing that character vulnerable unlike the other films and what he had to go through to keep showing his love for Lily was amazing. Snape’s memory scene is by far my favorite. Dumbledore’s character background wasn’t given justice, I thought they’d have that all resolved but again (like all the other movies) the reader has to fill in the blanks which is regrettable. One of my favorite elements was seeing Voldemort become more vulnerable to downfall more and more, I think that’s essential for any villain. Ralph Fiennes did amazing at that.

I think the battle was amazing, it wasn’t totally all in your face for all the movie and plot was still covered. There was a lot of humor, intentional or not, which distracted from the drama but still kept it light-hearted enough so that it wasn’t 2 hours full of seriousness.

Still, as a loyal reader of these books, I could have already instilled emotion for the characters, I knew how they felt and seeing it made it even more so gripping for me. I was satisfied at the end.

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5 Trey Hock July 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

rptilenin – Yeah I did find the Harry vs. Voldemort battle weak. There were a number of scenes that could have had significantly more punch to them. Mrs Weasley fighting Bellatrix, the deaths of Lupin, Tonks and the Weasley Twin, Hagrid in the forest, all of these things were poorly developed and distracted from the core struggle that faced Harry – overcoming his fear, embracing his destiny, and facing Voldemort. I gave the movie a pass, but I did feel I was being generous at a minor rock fist up (3/5).

Jimmy – as someone who has also read (and reread) the entire series, I found myself wanting to explain specific plot points or emotional build that was left out of the movie. Every time I felt the urge to explain a moment to my non-HP-readers was a part of the film that could have been better developed or removed depending on what is called for to make the film stronger and the intent of the filmmaker.

Film criticism does not argue likes and dislikes. You should like whatever you want to. Eric and I are concerned with whether a film is effective as a film based. I enjoyed HP 7.2, not a ton, but I did enjoy it. That aside, I think that based on the emotional depth that 7.1 had, 7.2 could have been so much more.

Yates chose to stay true to the particulars of the books plot in 7.2 instead of staying true to the emotional content. But I guess you can either make the fans happy or make film lovers happy. Luckily I straddled the fence enough to not be sad.

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6 Leona August 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I totally disagree with your conclusion to the reason why the film was weak. They did not stick to the books enough. It was the gutting that made the structure hollow & the films unsatisfying. Leaving out so much meant the story was not fully developed so the emotional impact that could have been there was not felt. All they had to do was make it longer, it did not hurt LOTR, the extended versions for them are 4 hours long each. I mean I could see just telling Harry’s story for the first 2 films but other people become very important as the story progresses. Eight films about one person… I see why he commented he felt like Tom Cruise. It the reason I do not watch his movies, they are boring for that very reason, no matter how much action & special effects are injected, it is all him.

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