Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011)

This is it. The definitive end of a long-running film series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 ties together all of the characters, stories, and looming threat of an actual attack by Voldemort's army started all the way back in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I think it delivers in a big way. It's almost unfair to review this film by itself. It feels--much like Kill Bill Vol. 2--like someone decided one long film wouldn't work at the box office. So, we get two films, each over two hours long, that conclude the series. The big Part 2 in the title lets you know that it's a continuation of the story and it does not lie. The film picks up immediately at the end of the last film, even reusing the shots of Voldemort acquiring the Elder Wand and Harry finishing Dobby's grave.

From there, it's straight into new plot developments. The action leads Harry, Hermione, and Ron to the vaults of Gringotts and through the back door of Hogwarts. They still have three Horcruxes to destroy before Voldemort is able to die. Part 2, wisely, opts not to spend too much time on the myriad of bad guys introduced in the conclusion of the story, giving the audience just enough information about them to know who they are, what they're doing, and why Harry has to fear them. Instead, the focus is on action, plot, and emotional closure.

The art direction on this film is more impressive than it's been since the initial unveiling of the sprawling campus of Hogwarts. Three familiar locations--Gringotts, Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts--are styled in completely new ways. Gringotts now features an elaborate mine car system to transport high-priority clientele directly to their vaults. Hogsmeade is overflowing with wanted posters for the trio and more dust than Miss Havisham's wedding cake in Great Expectations.

Hogwarts is where the designers really get to shine. From the time the trio return to the school, the design is constantly evolving and changing. First the school is stripped of all color and luxuries, with sleeping bags and hammocks in place of any bedding or seating for the students. Then, you see the condition of places like the Chamber of Secrets and hidden rooms from previous films; they are desolate, filthy, and uncared for in the absence of Dumbledore. Once the battle kicks in, the design team gets to constantly destroy various rooms in unexpected ways. This drives home the severity of Voldemort's siege without stopping the hunt for the Horcruxes.

Part 2 really takes off when the battles begin. Where Part 1 was a bit dreamy and philosophical, Part 2 focuses on good resisting evil. This is not a passive fight or pre-planned defense anymore; this is life or death. There is no longer time to eulogize the death of a familiar character because time is running out. Hermione and Ron might run by as a werewolf is feasting on the blood of a first year student who we never even learn the name of. Characters who had pivotal roles in previous films are occasionally seen glancing magical blows with giant trolls. Only the most essential secondary character actions are given substantial screentime. In one case, I can only assume it is because of the strength of the visual and not the importance to the plot.

What focusing on so much action does is allow the film to breathe when it needs to. Meaning, there are a few short, quiet scenes that allow for the audience to realize how much the characters have changed. Harry has a scene opposite the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw (a very moving performance by Kelly Macdonald) that shows how far he has grown in the past seven years at Hogwarts. Harry also gets a first person look at Snape's life that is a beautifully edited emotional showcase for the usually grim Snape. Luna Lovegood gets a chance to finally show her backbone, Neville gets to be genuinely happy, and Professor McGonagall gets to act in a leadership role beyond house disciplinarian. These tiny moments provide closure to an issue that often takes a backseat in the Harry Potter films: character development.

Here is my one big issue with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: it does not stand fully alone as a film. Because the film immediately picks up where Part 1 lets off, it does not work as a film by itself. All that was needed to make this a cohesive picture in and of itself was one short little scene reminding the audience that Harry has to find and destroy the seven Horcruxes and what a Horcrux actually is. Instead, the production team assumes that anyone who will see this film knows every character and ever plot detail already, so they cut out all exposition that would put the audience right where they need to be. I saw the last film and was going back and forth trying to remember if the trio had destroyed three or four of the Horcruxes and where certain characters came from. That is an unwelcome distraction in an otherwise beautifully realized film.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is a must see film for anyone who has any interest in the Harry Potter universe. I strongly encourage you not to see it in 3D as the film's beautifully layered dark tones will be completely washed out by the glasses. It is a 2D feature being shoveled at an audience in 3D to ring out every last cent. Don't give them that satisfaction. The 2D screenings are just as immersive without having to wear sunglasses inside a dark room. Say goodbye to Harry and his friends in the way you first said hello to them onscreen: in 2D. You'll be happier if you do.

Rating: 6/10

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