1:43 pm Jul. 15, 2011
Anyone looking forward to the latest and, if series creator J.K. Rowling is to be believed, last Harry Potter film will not be disappointed. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ends the movie franchise on just the right note. Director David Yates comes alive here and decisively takes charge in ways that he hasn’t in any of the last three Potter films he helmed, including Deathly Hallows Part 1.
Part 2 is the most decisive Potter film yet, as it should be.
Like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in Rowling’s series of seven novels, the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a singularly focused narrative. In the other films he directed, Yates had tried to reproduce the feel of Rowling's books by pursuing a number of the series' myriad tangential asides. There are virtually no asides here.
Deathly Hallows Part 2 is all about the battle between Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), the young man who is fated to defeat him. Practically every scene in the film ushers Harry closer to that goal in some way. It's a directness that wouldn't have been possible without the decision to split up Deathly Hallows into two films, allowing Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves to throw everything they didn’t know what to do with in Rowling's source novel into Part 1.
The newest, last Harry Potter movie is both a superior stand-alone narrative and singular entry in Rowling’s serialized drama because there’s virtually no time wasted on setting up the characters, their world or the conditions that led to the drama at hand. You either know where you are in the series or you don’t.
This is a refreshing approach, and plays to Yates’ strengths, which do not include expository-dialogue scenes or, really, dialogue of any kind.
The only time Deathly Hallows Part 2 really stumbles is a scene in which Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) tries to rally the students and staff of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry against Voldemort one last time. This scene ought to be inspiring, but it’s clunky, and just feels out of step with the rest of the film. Impressive, virtually dialogue-free set pieces, like an opening break-in sequence at the goblin-owned bank Gringotts, set the film’s breakneck pace.
It’s not just the film’s big action scenes in which actions speak louder than words. Many scenes that recap events from previous movies feel organic here in ways that they did not before. Information is only parceled out when it’s absolutely necessary, like when Harry informs Ollivander (John Hurt) the wand-maker that Voldemort has the Elderwand, the most powerful magic wand in the world. This scene, like the one in which Harry rewatches important events through the eyes of the reluctant murderer Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), has a direct function. It doesn’t feel like another superfluous attempt to do remedial work for forgetful fans newcomers.
The fact that nobody really speaks out of turn in Deathly Hallows Part 2 proves that Yates has learned a lot since 2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. For proof, just look at the most crucial scene Part 2, the one in which Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the murdered head of Hogwarts, talks to Harry from beyond the grave. This scene, swathed in a haze of white light, is the strongest conversation Yates filmed in the entire series.
Kloves trimmed Rowling’s dialogue down so that the scene’s cryptic exchanges are as to the point as possible. But Yates made sure that the scene doesn’t go on longer than it needs to and never seems confounded by the idea that yes, what we’re looking at is Harry’s vision of the afterlife.
Yates’ newfound eye for detail is astonishing. He opens the scene, which clearly owes a debt to the star-child finale at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Harry discovering a ragged, bloody, fetus-like body underneath a free-standing bench. Then that shocking discovery segues into a conversation between Dumbledore and Harry about life after death. It’s a testament to Yates’ powers of observation that that initial image of the body doesn’t overwhelm the viewer to the point that it’s the only thing they take away from this all-important scene.
Deathly Hallows Part 2’s action scenes are also more versatile than their counterparts in the earlier films. Yates still isn’t great at depicting straight-up violence, like the very last fight between Voldemort and Harry or an earlier scene in which a dragon sets a goblin on fire at Gringotts. But he has knack for scenes of rising action. The scenes in which the Hogwarts staff make the school ready for an attack by Voldemort’s troops is especially strong, as are climactic action scenes set at Gringotts and Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement. In terms of their pacing and scope, these scenes are more impressive than almost all of the other set pieces in the film franchise.
Even quiet little references to characters and relationships that at some point meant something to Harry stand out in Deathly Hallows Part 2. Yates shrewdly juxtaposes one scene, in which Harry’s best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) hold hands, with a quick but meaningful shot of Harry smiling at Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Harry’s love interest in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Just by contrasting these two couples, Yates shows us that some relationships are meant to be and some aren’t. Fate is a fickle thing in Rowling’s universe but thankfully, viewers can rely on Yates and Kloves to finally deliver the best entry in the Harry Potter film series.