Skip to main content

You've kept him alive so that he can die at the proper moment.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
(2010)

(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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.