Review: Harry Potter, Book Seven, Movie Two

HOWARD MEGDAL: I feel like a hypocrite here. My major complaint about Book Seven, Part One is the utter lack of plot or movement. So who am I to complain that in the final installment, we had too much plot and not nearly enough to go with it?

Well, that’s my stance, and I’m sticking to it. After a relentlessly plodding first half of this seventh book, we received 130 minutes with almost no real interactions between the finest characters in the entire series. Other than a dialogue between Harry and Dumbledore- one that served simply to restate the theme of the series and paper over the huge plot glitch that Harry can just decide to undo his destiny as a horcrux- what were we left with? Severus Snape rededicating his love for Harry’s mother, something that shocked Dumbledore, yet what we’ve known throughout. I would be remiss not to mention the brilliance Alan Rickman brings to the role. But the absence of other character interactions was only highlighted by this sequence.

And almost nothing of the Weasleys. Brief glimpses of Horace Slughorn. A mere death scene for the enchanting Bellatrix Lestrange. Sorry, but you have Jim Broadbent and Helena Bonham Carter around, you use them. And strangest of all, not a single conversation of substance between Harry and Ron, or Ron and Hermione, or Harry and Hermione. Are you kidding me?

What is the heart of Harry Potter, really? Is it simply providing viewers with a couple hours at a time of interesting special effects? Or is it Harry, Hermione and Ron? For me, anyway, it has always been the latter.

And the gods were awfully kind to the keepers of the Potter flame. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have become exceptional actors. There was no way to guarantee that, ten years ago. This was our chance to say goodbye to all three characters, all of whom are beloved in large part due to how completely fleshed out they were by those who played them.

I’m guessing those conversations were left on the cutting room floor, or considered unimportant, and dumped into Part I of this two-part film. The two films were so different, it was jarring. The totality of it left me feeling as if Part I merely consisted of scenes the director didn’t know what to do with, and Part II was the exciting conclusion they planned all along. I wish they’d explained that at the start- I could have saved my money, and only gone to the last film.

We’ve waited-what, a decade?- for Ron and Hermione to finally get together. And we get- a single, solitary kiss. I’m not suggesting a sex scene was warranted, obviously. But we don’t get any discussion of this monumental development, the Harry Potter romantic equivalent of defeating Voldemort- not from the two of them, or Ron with Harry, or Harry with Hermione. Nothing. It was awfully disappointing.

And yet, I couldn’t have missed this for anything. There’s a reason this franchise has such loyalty through seven books and eight films. I happen to believe all three of these mainstays will go on to tremendous careers, and I look forward to seeing them in many other things. But their characters, as written, were similarly memorable. I don’t expect these films to disappear into the ether, not will these books.

It would have been nice, however, as their signature characters to date were retired from the big screen, to have heard them spend a little more time saying goodbye to each other, and us.

 

AKIE BERMISS: I disagree with Howard intensely!  I hear where he’s coming from, but I think 18 hours into this series — I just don’t think any criticism works if the movie works even on a basic level.  After all, this is not just some stand-alone film nor is it a simple sequel or even the end of a trilogy.  It is the last of eight feature-length movies.  And it has a lot of weight to throw around.  After all, what fan among us did not wait with bated breath these last few months for the release of the final installment of the Harry Potter movie series?  I know I did.  And, as a fan, my road has been somewhat longer and yet shorter than most.  As a person who for many years rejected the very concept of the Harry Potter books while being totally vulnerable to the movie magic of the first couple films, I spent the first eight years of Potter’s existence mostly in the dark.  It wasn’t until a fateful week in January of 2005 that I finally caved in and read the first five books (up to Order Of The Phoenix).  It was a fortuitous leap for it was that very summer that the penultimate book (Half-Blood Prince) came out.  And since then we’ve been careening forward to this moment, when the final book’s final movie installment would be released to the public.

And what a long, strange trip its been!

A few things about the movies, to start.  For my money, the best movie in the series will always be The Prisoner of Azkaban.  It was, by far, the darkest, the most well-directed and shot, and the most compelling.  If not for the third movie, I doubt the movies would have become so popular.  It was Azkaban that switched the tone — almost violently — from only mildly dangerous child-centric fantasy fun to a story where the stakes were high and people lead tortured, un-happy lives, and death was a real threat.  For me, it stands out because I also feel like the books didn’t make that change quite as abruptly and they didn’t really settle into it until the Goblet of Fire.  So I think Azkaban stands on its own in the films.  And it gave the necessary momentum for the movies to eschew cutesy mimicry of the books and to become and entity unto themselves.  Viz — the movie series is an experience unto itself, not a dependent shadow-thing that clings to the books.

It is with that knowledge, that we can move forward to our understanding of this final installment.  I don’t think it is proper to judge the film by how the books progressed, but rather to think of Deathly Hallows Part 2 as the final installment of the film series.  And, taken in that respect, I think its a resounding success.  The movie is entertaining, exciting, funny, and satisfying.  It ties up all the loose ends and it leaves the view wistfully wanting more, but not feeling under-nourished.  So… SPOILER ALERT!

In this movie, Harry Potter dies.  But then, doesn’t really die.  And then kind of comes back and then kicks a whole lot of ass and/or inspires his friends to participate in kicking of same.  For people who haven’t read the books the part where Voldemort does the killing curse and then Harry talks with Dumbledore in what can only be described as heaven’s train station is going to be pretty confusing.  Is he dead?  Why doesn’t he die?  Is it because he’s a horcrux? Or is it because the elder wand really belongs to him and so it can’t kill him, but then why does it kill the little baby-Voldemort inside of him?  And so on and so forth.  To those people, I say: deal with it.  I’m sure there were parts of The Matrix that you didn’t really understand or that presented logical feed-back loops that can’t really be worked out.  Guess what?  It happens.  Its a fictional story taking place in a fantastical land.  If you really want to enjoy yourself, you’ll have to suspend belief for a while.  So anyway, its awesome: Harry does his Gandalf thing and seems to die, but doesn’t really and then come back all sage and peaceful and ready to settle the score.  I loved it.  It was a tricky part of the story and the movie handled it with aplomb.

The trick with a final movie is to touch on all the story-lines, pushing each one to a timely conclusion, but none too much faster than the others — so that, in the end, your viewer can say, “whew!  what a long, strange trip its been!”  And even though the split the final book up into two movies, there was a lot to get through.  Another couple of horcruxes to find and destroy, the adventure in the Gringotts vault of Bellatrix, the conversion of Draco Malfoy to the side of… ambivalence, and — yes — the big frickin’ battle at Hogwarts.  It meant Neville Longbottom had to make his big transformation from lovable dweeb to lovable-former-dweeb-with-new-courageous-tendancies.  The movie achieved this by making big hay over his speech when everyone thinks Harry is dead (during the weird part we talked about earlier where Harry is-isn’t dead, remember?).  Where is invokes the side of right over that of evil? Where he limps forward and speaks truth to power before Voldemort and all his heckling minions.  And, you know what?  It was kind of stirring.  I mean, you have to let yourself go.  And remember, all through these last seven movies, Longbottom has been the Calamity Jane of Hogwarts.  And yet, when every thing has fallen away and people are past hope, when HARRY POTTER IS DEAD — guess who steps into the vacuum?  Neville-freaking-Longbottom.

Stand up and cheer.

And what about love?  Obviously we’ve been waiting over a decade for Ron and Hermione to really seal the deal.  All those little adventures and innocent sleep-overs, and all the jealous one-upsmanship of the last few story arcs have all been leading to this moment.  When as all hell breaks loose, Ron and Hermione finally become fast as a couple.  No longer two moons orbiting Harry’s star, but lovers with their own story. When they revisit the chamber of secrets and are sloshed over by a wall of water, in the silence that follows their shock they deliver — and deliver is the right word because, as I’ve said, we’ve been waiting — a nice long, awkward-but-passionate kiss.  And damn but its satisfying.

Magic and violence? This may be the only part of the story where we go short-shrift.  Since we all know who is going to die, we’re prepared to make a big fuss out of it.  While there were some pretty great snippets of the fighting and and the capers being pulled off by the ragtag Hogwarts magic militia, the part of the story where Voldemort calls for a brief break in the fighting and we are given a moment to see who all have perished was just far too brief.  It was almost glib!  Harry walks into the big hall.  He takes a perfunctory look at his dead friends, feels sad for a couple of beats, and then goes stalking off to get killed (like, sort of killed — remember how I was saying before how he goes to Heaven and all that?).  I would have liked to see some real mourning at the point.  These are characters that, over the past years, we’ve come to know and love.  And now they are dead.  I mean — a little respect!

FInally, there is the matter of Snape which for me, was going to make or break the movie.  You see, for me, even Dumbledore is not as compelling a character as Professor Snape.  Sure, Dumbledore is mysterious and powerful and fun and he loves Harry, but does he have Snape’s complexity of character?  I think not — it is Snape, after all, who has to kill Dumbledore!  And its great and all when Harry uses the Resurrection Stone to talk to his parents and professor Lupin, but we kind of saw that at the end of Goblet of Fire, so its not all that incredible.  But when Snape — poor, poor Severus — is killed in the most gruesome way by Voldemort.  When you think just how hard his life must have been those last 17 or so years.  After loving and losing Lily, then going to the dark side (so to speak), then coming back in order to save her (and, in turn, Harry) and then losing her again!  Ach!  Its just the piece de resistance, as far as I’m concerned.  When he conveys the final message to Harry through memory-loaded tears.  When you see that it was Snape who tried to save him, that it was Snape who came in on the gory scene where Harry’s parent’s lay dying, that it was Snape who likely carried him away from there.  When you realize (ok, we knew, but its nice to pretend we didn’t) that all these years Snape has been Dumbledore’s most trusted confidante.  That his every interaction with Harry was probably fraught with intense pain and loss and shame.  And when, with his last dying breath, he looks in to Harry’s eyes and says he has his mother’s eyes.  Well: that’s just the limit, man!

If you’re a fan.  If you’ve been watching the movies since the original jump-off. If you loved the cold, distance of Rickman’s Snape, if you’ve been waiting to find out just what Snape’s deal is — that is your moment.  For me, it is the pinnacle of the movie.  And, having been well done, the movie is saved from all spurious criticism.  It is well within my soul.

In all seriousness, as far as modern films are concerned I’m fairly sure that an 8-movie series is unprecedented.  Certainly, a series that maintains a level of overall quality that puts nearly every other blockbuster film to shame year after year has GOT to be a first.  There are criticisms that any good and thorough movie-goer might make of Deathly Hallows Part 2.  But why?!  The movies have been wonderfully stimulating to watch all these years.  They are great to watch over and over again.  And that despite the often terribly awkward acting of the main character.  To overcome failure so many times in a row over such terrific odds?  And then to make a final installment that really does just about satisfy every plot element?  I mean, its sui generis.  And it will likely remain so for many, many years to come.  So why get uptight and bad-mouth this final one?  To paraphrase another historically popular summer blockbuster: Were you not entertained?!

I will say this — the epilogue is ridiculous.  The 17 years older Harry, Ron, and Hermione are laughable.  And there was simply no way to get that right, if you ask me.  It couldn’t be done.  But taking into consideration that something like 20+ hours of movie have been created in the name of Harry Potter by this point.  What is a few minutes of laughable epilogue?  Its really only fair.

This is our generation’s Star Wars.  Only — and I know its sacrilegious to say this but: its better.  Take that, Skywalkers.

 

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