I am happy to say that the eighth and final installment in the planet’s top-grossing film franchise is far and away the best of the series: a dazzling action adventure that’s epic in scope and wows from start to finish. Due to superb editing, the zigzagging plot never misses a beat, the dialogue’s timing’s spot-on and no scene lags or feels wasted. Harry, in other words, goes out with a bang.
Longtime friends and enemies perish, monsters run amuck and magical mayhem (plus lots of explosions) preside as the forces of good and evil clash on the battlefield, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (which we saw little of in the last film). All as our young wizard protagonist (Daniel Radcliffe) and BFF’s Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) struggle in desperation to unearth and destroy the final four Horcruxes -- and eliminate the serpentine Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once and for all. Unlike in the dreary, exposition-heavy PART 1 – in which Harry’s world falls to the Death Eaters -- loose ends from throughout the series are tied, secrets are revealed with panache and long simmering attractions are spectacularly consummated, minus its predecessor’s ickiness. DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2 is scarier, creepier, far more thrilling and more profound than most HP’s preceding it, a cathartic climax to a long and eventful but inconsistently satisfying journey over the past decade.
At PART 1’s conclusion, Voldemort steals from Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon) crypt the Elder Wand, one of the three deathly hallows and the most powerful wand in the world. Its sequel begins with tattered black Dementors surrounding the cherished school, and Snape (Alan Rickman) lording over the students, who march in lockstep. We flash to a beachside safe house where Harry and crew interrogate a prisoner, the fanged and black-eyed goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis), about the Lestrange family vault at the regal, goblin-run bank Gringotts (where they seek Horcrux #4, Helga Hufflepuff's Cup). Before they disapparate with goblin in tow, wand expert Ollivander warns the trio of pals of the Dark Lord’s indestructibility with new weapon in hand, in a wonderfully layered performance by the inestimable John Hurt (who briefly appeared in Part 1). Despite Hermione’s hilariously unconvincing disguise as Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange – all the while stumbling in unfamiliar heels -- the group boards a dazzling rollercoaster ride to Gringotts’ cavernous depths, a second goblin entranced and smiling druggily from the driver’s seat. Thus begins a trek that in this chapter alone springs a magical booby trap recalling STAR WARS’ garbage compactor scene and escape riding a bloodied, albino dragon -- perhaps PART 2’s most resounding CGI feat – that wheezily scales the chasm walls with its grotesque, winged talons, incinerates its hook-nosed imprisoners and flaps clumsily into the blue beyond.
And it’s on to Hogwarts to free their friends. There they prep for battle with the dark armies massing outside, a sense of doom impending on denizens both young and old as their hastily constructed force field cracks and burns: Armageddon is at hand as the sky bursts into flame. The combat rages at a frenetic pace,as black-clad Death Eaters smash through windows, are frozen with curses and hurled back; maniacal giants and immense spiders stampede all in their paths; barbarians are vaporized with magic; and storied institutions explode in sprays of rubble, leaving mangled corpses and terrified innocents in their wake. People die -- by the hundreds even, as whole armies perish – and each significant death, good or bad, takes our breath away. Characters armor up, attack foes or abandon their stations in a whirlwind, even confessing love or locking lips as their ends draw near. Complacent or cowardly standbys turn stalwart, as the other side’s unceasing brutality comes suddenly tinged with fear.
Harry and Voldemort, tied by more than just mutual hatred, confront each other with only inches between them until embracing in a swan dive from a ledge, the hissing baddie more erratic and inhuman than ever as he screams, vibrates, writhes and snarls in the death grip of his bespectacled foe. Their showdown in the Forbidden Forest calls to mind Aslan’s self-sacrifice to the fiends in C.S. Lewis’s first Narnia tale.
Speaking of books, it’s been years since I read The Deathly Hallows, so the number of characters’ demise and ultimate realization that no human, creature or location is sacred any longer kept me shocked throughout. The chills are palpable, from Voldemort’s whispered propaganda campaign through the campus and girls’ high-pitched screams to the deadly serpent Nagini quietly slithering toward its hopeless victims. The CGI -- and there’s lots of it – is brilliantly conceived: you can practically feel the bubbles fizzle in an underwater plunge or diffusion of inky memories within the silvery white basin of the pensieve. Gorgeous charcoal swirls smoke of signal transitions between memories, Death Eaters’ jet streams and Snape’s escape through shattered stained glass. There’s beauty as well: a bright-eyed young Snape and Harry’s fiery-haired mom as a girl daydreaming in a halcyon world of daisies and willows; spires crumbling in the morning mist or wands spitting lasers like foam; and even amidst death and destruction -- a nighttime attack’s firework display or blazing figure flying slow-mo through the air. The heavenly netherworld of a Limbo resembling King’s Cross in white and gray is elegantly grand; a mere close-up of one of Harry’s eyes during the frenzy of battle is almost as memorable. (Indeed, the film relies heavily on close-ups -- which works, given the exceptional cast and their characters’ harrowing experiences in the twilight of their lives.)
Harry’s infinitely more sympathetic and heroic since PART 1, not to mention handsomer. His dirt- and blood-encrusted face in the final battle radiates an intermingled fear, resolve and fatigue that makes for an engaging visual. Hermione transcends her pretty, one-note nerd, and Ron’s straight face provokes all the best laughs. Their first, spontaneous kiss -- after stabbing Horcrux #5, no less (Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem, which a sad, deranged ghost played by Kelly Macdonald helps reveal), had our audience cheering. Snape grabs one of the film’s many spotlights and hams it up in a fashion only Rickman can do while simultaneously giving significance to each line and peeling every last layer from his brooding wizard’s complicated, hidden past. (“You have your mother’s eyes,” he sadly tells Harry in a fascinating scene.) Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) surprises too, dropping her dour schoolmarm mien as she engages in a duel with Snape, condemns the Slytherins to a dungeon (also getting cheers), commands her fellow fighters – former students turned equals -- to protect their disintegrating home and even giggles as she discovers her mojo. Neville (Matthew Lewis) grows a spine. The Malfoys’ rigidity melts. And Voldemort exudes vulnerability, older and more infirm as each Horcrux goes in a cloud of smoke, a once indomitable demon now confronted with his mortality. His minions become petrified as well -- How can this this happening? They cry. And loved ones surface from beyond the grave to bolster Harry’s mission.
This is David Yates’ fourth consecutive time directing a POTTER film and Steve Kloves’ seventh screenplay of the eight films -- both should hopefully reap the rewards they deserve for their highly entertaining finale, reaching heights only the LORD OF THE RINGS series have pioneered before. It casts quite the potent spell. Lumos! Incendio! Stupify!
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Lewis, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright
Writers: Steve Kloves