WFTB Score: 13/20
The plot: With an old friend buried, Harry Potter and his long-time friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger, continue their quest for the horcruxes in which Voldemort has secured his immortality. The search leads the trio back to Hogwarts, now under the control of Snape and Voldemort’s cruel Death Eaters, setting the scene for a battle which only one of the boy wizard and the Dark Lord can survive.
These are the wizarding world’s darkest times. The Dark Lord Voldemort (Ranulph Fiennes) and his army of Death Eaters are in charge, the evil wizard taking control of Hogwarts school and threatening to rule indefinitely with the help of the fabled Elder Wand. Only Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) can stop him, if he can complete the quest given to him by Dumbledore – to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes which host fragments of Voldemort’s soul. Together with companions Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), Harry first breaks into the goblin-run Gringotts Bank to find a horcrux in the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter); the trail then leads back to Hogwarts, run like a prison camp with the dastardly Snape (Alan Rickman) in charge.
Not only must Harry work out what and where the remaining horcruxes are, but Voldemort masses his forces outside the school and presents an ultimatum: hand over Harry Potter, or he will kill everyone inside. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) and other members of the Order of the Phoenix all stand foursquare behind Harry, together with contemporaries such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood (Matthew Lewis and Evanna Lynch). Even so, Voldemort and his serpentine companion Nagini wield immense power and seem to win the day: that is, until Harry learns a secret about the Dark Lord that even he doesn’t know, and receives help from a number of unexpected quarters.
If – oh, by the way, there are spoilers aplenty ahead, so proceed with caution if you’ve not yet seen the film – if Deathly Hallows Part 1 was, for stretches, a leisurely stroll through the countryside for Harry, Ron and Hermione, Part 2 is absolutely the opposite. Part 1 concentrated largely on the bond between the friends: once Part 2 gets up to speed, it barely lets up the pace and becomes a thrilling sequence of action scenes, rendered (though not in the perfectly good ‘flat’ version I saw) all the more exciting with three-dimensional roller coaster rides, Fiendfyre and the like.
Effects are used brilliantly, such as the glorious sight of the protections rolling over Hogwarts, and I particularly like the fact that during the battle, spells and curses bounce around, out-of-focus, in the background. While the Battle of Hogwarts inevitably recalls comparable scenes in fantasy fare such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Yates’ version holds its own, a multitude of things going on at once but always in control of the story.
There are well-timed breaks in the hectic proceedings for emotional scenes from Snape, Dumbledore, and Harry’s parents; and the film always makes sure that Harry and Voldemort are at the very centre of proceedings, where they belong. The reveal of Harry’s true purpose and Snape and Dumbledore’s schemes is well handled and utterly brilliant in plot terms. If anyone without Attention Deficit Disorder comes out of the cinema saying they were bored by Part 2, don’t believe them. And give them a slap.
On the other hand, the more demanding/literate/picky Harry Potter devotee may well leave the film appreciating all of the above, but still feeling that this romp through the story doesn’t quite do J.K. Rowling’s work justice. Nearly everyone, and everything, from the book is present, and there are doubtless dozens of things that had to be taken out for time or sheer movie-unfriendliness; but a plethora of details are glossed over in the name of excitement. For example, why are there spiders and giants in the battle? What’s the deal with Dumbledore’s sister? Why is the death of one of the Weasley twins barely even touched on, and the same with Tonks and Lupin? Where does Hagrid pop up from? Above all, why is a film called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so short on Deathly Hallows? The last is a remnant from the book, for sure, but it makes the same point.
Part 2 can’t quite reconcile the competing demands of an action-packed blockbuster and a faithful, meaty adaptation, and favours the former over the latter whenever there’s an option. As a result, you don’t entirely feel the massiveness of the weight on Harry’s shoulders, as he sees his friends dying for him and his cause. I also suspect the need not to traumatise younger popcorn-eaters led to a reduction in the movie’s intensity; when Harry, ahem, ‘loses’ his first encounter with Voldemort, it’s over so quickly that you barely register what’s happened. My gut feeling is that the maturity of Rowling’s work would have made for an incredibly good three-hour, 15-Certificate movie, but money-making imperatives made that an impossible dream.
Another consequence of moving at lightning pace is that a large heap of very good actors are given very little screen time and a meagre handful of lines. Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, Jason Isaacs, Mark Williams and many more flit across the scene long enough to be recognised, and trot off again when ideally you’d like to spend more time with them (Maggie Smith, kicking ass, is an honourable exception). The older leads are uniformly good – Bonham Carter does a wonderfully goofy job of being animated by Hermione – while Matthew Lewis shines amongst the secondary ‘kids’ as a newly brave Neville. Sadly, Bonnie Wright, playing Harry’s intended Ginny Weasley, hasn’t become any less wooden since Half-Blood Prince.
As for the real stars of the show, Radcliffe – who I’ve given a bit of a hard time in the past – appears to have adopted a slower, calmer, and deeper-voiced approach in this film, and it works really well, while Watson has become a fine actress. It’s Grint who loses out most here; Ron doesn’t have much to do, but he does finally snog Hermione and that – for the fans – is the main thing.
In summary, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a clever, thrilling and often beautiful story, bringing the Harry Potter saga to a fitting close, drawing expertly on the dominant theme of the whole: the protective power of a mother’s, or mothers’, love, not least that of Jo Rowling herself when she first put pen to paper. In the end, though, it’s to the books you should go; for while the film is a visual spectacle and an efficient account of (the second half of) the novel’s story, the characters and the tale truly live in Rowling’s words.