Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
(SPOILERS) The final Harry Potter is somewhat better than I recalled, but it still counts as a disappointment following a significant run of quality since David Yates took over on megaphone duties. I was put in mind at times of the Wachowski sisters’ Matrix capper, in which much of the running time is given over to uninvolving battle action featuring characters we wonder why we should care about. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’s particular saving grace is the resolution of the Snape arc, but it isn’t enough in a movie that feels long and bloated despite being the shortest in the series.
Adding to the The Matrix Revolutions vibe, there are even repeats early on of other sequences previously done better, most notably Ron and Hermione taking Polyjuice Potion and visiting the Gringott’s for a spot of thievery; it’s a far less notable retread of the Ministry heist in Part I. Flying sequences continue to look less than perfect (the escape from Gringott’s on a dragon) and cameos emphasise a disconnect that was solved by judicious pruning hitherto (John Hurt, who appeared briefly in Part I, was last sighted in Philosopher’s Stone).
Other characters are built up for hero moments in the “thrilling” assault on Hogwarts, but missing out on audience investment in their fates, they amount to little more than lip service to the idea of the less obvious being equal in stature to the true heroes. Professor McGonagall finally gets to do something (seeing off Snape), but I’m still none the wiser about who she is eight films in. Julie Walters’ Molly Weasley invokes Aliens when she instructs Bellatrix to get away from her daughter you bitch, but attempts to switch a character from fringe comic relief doesn’t really work this way.
The worst offender is Neville Longbottom (I want to call him Sidebottom, and Voldemort clearly found the name funny too; at least you can’t accuse the Dark Lord of lacking a sense of humour), whose repeated bravery – and decidedly unrallying speechifying – can’t disguise the fact that he’s an utterly uninteresting character (again, I’m quite prepared to grant that a lot of these things may, probably even do, work better on the page). I don’t need to know that “Luna... I’m mad for her!” as Rowling takes the aphrodisiac qualities of mortal peril rather too literally; in the heat of this battle, it appears, it’s open season to be distracted from your mission and fulfil your lusty passions (after the relative maturity of Half-Blood Prince, this libidinous free-for-all is a definite retrograde step).
As, of course, Ron and Hermione finally clinch, leading to a rush of masculine protective feeling in the lad (“That’s my girlfriend, you numpties!”) There’s something vaguely rote about most of the progressions here, including Draco not being quite as bad as all that (indeed, in twenty years he’ll be nodding to Harry at the train station). Rowling includes some attention-holding twists and turns, including the true current ownership of the Elder Wand and the happy introduction of the Resurrection Stone, but as a whole, the progression is much too linear, and some sequences (Harry pleading with another ghost, Kelly Madonald’s Helena Ravenclaw) are simply inert.
The dying/resurrection is appropriately positioned to yield maximum impact, but the execution proves entirely underwhelming, these sorts of confrontations tending to work better on the page than on screen, unless the filmmaker is that one step beyond (and Yates is a decent filmmaker, but he isn’t that). I’ll take a clever over spectacular finale every time, and Rowling had the material to make it the former, but the bloat that derives from cutting the material in halves means the latter is where the emphasis lies, and the result is a let-down.
In contrast, the Snape Pensieve sequence is about as close as the series gets to perfection, retracing the route of the Professor’s affiliations and afflictions, and treatment of Harry. with different eyes and entirely rehabilitating him in the process. Rowling’s still alive, even at this point, to the potential for withholding, such that Dumbledore’s motivations with regard to Harry (already trailed by a scene with Ciaran Hinds as his brother) initially seem entirely ruthless (“You’ve kept him alive so he can die at the proper moment… You’ve been raising him like a pig to slaughter”). The subsequent after-realm, however, is seriously lacking in inspiration, offering as it does the comforting glow of familiarity, safety, nurture and benign oversight via Force ghost Dumbledore… and Voldemort resembling a discarded Doctor design from The Last of the Time Lords.
Running with that cosiness is the final scene, two decades on, with the slightly chilling vision of unchanging generational repetition: all these characters still together, now with their own kids, shepherding them off to Hogwarts (you can see this kind of emotionally turgid resolution in other ongoing fantasy fare, from Lost to Doctor Who, but that doesn’t make it any more excusable). And Rowling has further indulged this, of course, with a very popular stage play that will doubtless become a movie at some point (or, more likely still, a new series of movies in due course, after Fantastic Beasts has expired; Rowling’s Episodes VII-IX, if you will). I’m sure the scene isn’t supposed to be depressing, but my only consolation was they didn’t go overboard with old age makeup. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II succeeds in closing the saga, but then adds that bit more, which is symptomatic of filmmakers taking the opportunity to stuff the picture with every little cameo they can. Sometimes less is more and enforced limits can be their own reward.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.