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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, review

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The end of the Harry Potter film series, like getting kids out of a swimming pool or troops out of Afghanistan, has been an arduous business. With JK Rowling’s final volume having been sliced in two, the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was long, sombre and often deeply tedious. The second part is the exact opposite: it’s concise, rousing and frequently moving. Watched as a stand-alone film it’s likely to strike newcomers as completely mystifying, but committed and even semi-committed fans will surely welcome it as a worthy climax to the most successful film franchise in history.

The set-up is simple. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are zipping about, donning disguises and wizarding themselves into ever-more dangerous situations all with the goal of tracking down and destroying the Horcruxes that contain chunks of Lord Voldemort’s dark soul. Fittingly enough, their quest takes them back to Hogwarts boarding school although, no longer the palace of marvels it used to be, it’s now an embattled shell of its former self. Helped by the redoubtable Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), they endure a tortuous siege, before Harry has to come face to face with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) himself.

Just over two hours in length, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the shortest of all the Harry Potter films. There’s less footling about and a quicker gallop to the action sequences, among the best of which is the whooshing journey Harry and his pals make from the wizard bank Gringotts to an underground vault where the jewels multiply at a rate so fast the schoolchildren are almost buried. Later, as they escape subterranea and fly over London on the back of a fire-spitting dragon, Ron cries out: “This is brilliant!” It is – the views are amazing, the excitement contagious – and it reminds you that Rowling’s books were so thrilling because of the adventures they contained as much for the issues they explored.

 

There are other scenes worth cheering for their nostalgic appeal: when, at Hogwarts, Harry leaps upon a broomstick and rescues Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) from a fire the evil albino has started; when, during the violent battle scenes, not only marauders and giant ogres, but giant spiders make an appearance. The cast too, a veritable Who’s Who of beloved British character actors – Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Miriam Margolyes – reunites performers from earlier films so that they can give brief, curtain-call appearances.

Radcliffe, like Watson and Grint, has taken a while to fully inhabit his role and to animate Steve Kloves’s stilted screenplays. He’s a revelation here, suddenly possessed by a self-assuredness – as well as a sadness – that befits his character and makes him resemble a genuine leader rather than a well-meaning school prefect. Watson’s tics are brought into relief by Helena Bonham Carter who, in a note-perfect impersonation, plays Hermione (disguised as Bellatrix) with her jaw pushed out, a picture of girly sullenness. Fiennes manages to invest the nasally-challenged Voldemort with an almost touching mortality.

One of the most telling transformations comes via Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) who has turned into a beefy, snake-decapitating hero. The other is Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Now there are many of us who feel that the main flaw of the Harry Potter films has been too little Rickman: looking for all the world like a singer in an East Berlin post-punk band, every second his bottom-clenched, cruel-tongued character appeared on screen was covetable. Here, he’s shown to have a long-standing secret that’s of huge consequence that makes him a tragic and perhaps even heroic figure rather than an evil one.

It seems premature to talk about the end of Harry Potter. The books will always be with us, and no doubt there will be theme parks, apps and countless spin-offs – maybe even prequels, animated series and remakes – to follow in the future.

I’m unconvinced though that the films add anything to Rowling’s achievements: with so many directors, they lack the visual flair and dramatic coherence Peter Jackson brought to the Lord of the Rings trilogy; the balance – between drama and comedy, between quotidian and the extraordinary – has been shaky; they have pick-and-mixed motifs from Twilight, the Bourne trilogy, and yes, the Lord of the Rings.

Even in Part Two, which does an able job at tying up most of the loose ends, the backstory involving Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his brother (Ciaran Hinds) isn’t properly disentangled, while the romance between Ron and Hermione is laughably unconvincing. The 3D version, needless to say, is an expensive frivolity.

Still, by its close – a wonderfully-handled coda set nineteen years in the future – I was torn between satisfied pleasure and sadness to be taking leave of Harry. The first film appeared just after 9/11; this series has been a companion to the decade, part of its cultural wallpaper, a large slice of many of our lives.

At its best, and this finale falls just short of Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), its whimsical, chaotically-assembled brand of retro fantasy has been a peppy, uncynical tonic. It’s hard to disagree with Dumbledore’s parting shot: “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry; that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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