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updated: 7/13/2011 6:39 PM

Harry embraces his destiny in stirring final chapter

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  • Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), right, leads his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) through a perilous battleground during "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."

      Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), right, leads his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) through a perilous battleground during "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."
    Warner Brothers

  • Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), left, leads his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) through a perilous battleground during "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."

      Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), left, leads his pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) through a perilous battleground during "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."

  • Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) struggles to regain his wand in during a fight with the Dark Lord in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."

      Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) struggles to regain his wand in during a fight with the Dark Lord in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."

  • Video: Deathly Hollows - Part 2 trailer

 
 

And so it ends.

The film series that began through a child's innocent and optimistic eyes now concludes through a tested man's view of a sad and battered world rife with death, destruction and the high cost a young wizard must pay to do the right things.

David Yates' "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" proves a worthy and fitting final chapter for the eight-film series that has stretched across a decade. "Part 2" sends Harry off in grand fashion with a satisfying blend of character and action guaranteed to bombard our senses and touch our hearts before sending us into the real world with quiet hope for a waiting future.

The good news is that "Part 2" moves like a Michael Bay action film compared to the narrative malaise and studied, icy landscape montages in "Deathly Hallows: Part 1," which covered the first half of J.K. Rowling's novel.

Nonetheless, you can feel the "Part 2" filmmakers (particularly Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves) prodding the story along at a brisk clip, struggling to keep as much of the book's dense details intact without sacrificing the movie's momentum. They succeed most of the time.

Yates and Kloves did not save the best for last ("Prisoner of Azkaban" still rules). The add-on ending in "Part 2" comes off as flatly anticlimactic, even if it follows Rowling's story. The abysmal 3D -- astutely avoided by "Part 1" -- renders several key scenes uncomfortably dark. (Hint: See the much brighter 2D version if you can.)

"Part 2" nicely ties together the preceding seven movies with diabolically intricate, mitre-fitted plotting devices expertly executed and convincingly camouflaged as weird twists of fate or random happenstance. Harry fans who haven't read the book will hear the sound of their own jaws dropping as many secrets are revealed.

"Deathly Hallows" takes up with Harry, Hermione and Ron (again played by series regulars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, clearly young adults at this stage) continuing to seek out and destroy the Horcruxes, seemingly normal objects that contain pieces of the soul belonging to Lord Voldemort (a noseless, reptilian Ralph Fiennes).

Meanwhile, Harry's beloved school of Hogwarts has become a dark den for Dementors and Death Eaters who keep the students and staff as virtual prisoners as they await the arrival of the Dark Lord.

The anticipated Battle for Hogwarts doesn't disappoint. Armed with superior special effects craftsmen, Yates -- directing his fourth "Potter" installment -- mounts an impressive battle sequence rivaling anything in a high-budget World War II epic or alien invasion movie. Except, of course, magic wands and spells replace the more traditional artillery and laser guns as weapons of choice.

"Part 2" almost unfolds like a greatest hits replay for its supporting cast members, who all take ceremonial bows throughout this finale. Hogwarts professors Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Flitwick (Warwick Davis) get down with their warrior spirits.

Villainous Slytherin Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) receives a lesson in compassion. Gryffindor's Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) steps out from Harry's shadow to stand as a hero in his own right.
As the serpentine Severus Snape, cast regular Alan Rickman gets more screen time and a greater opportunity to demonstrate the considerable range of his dramatic chops than he has in all previous films combined.

For a decade, we have come to know and love these characters, even the naughty ones. That's why a chaste kiss between Ron and Hermione packs more passion and affection than any liplocks seen in erotic thrillers.

Radcliffe's interpretation of Harry has been exemplary, truly amazing when you think about it. He has played the Boy Who Lived with enough vulnerability so we can empathize with Harry, but with just enough mystery so that we can project our own feelings into his character.

Harry has been the metaphorical soul of the series, sacrificing himself for his friends and his ideals. Time and time again, he has risen above self-interest, confronted danger and, by his example, taught others about the virtues of compassion and courage.

I have not read Rowling's final book. Perhaps it addresses the muddled motivation for Draco's mother to protect Harry from Voldemort. Likewise, the relationship between the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and his brother (Ciaran Hinds) begs for more meaningful exploration.

"Part 2" might have benefited either from a longer running time than its 130 minutes (the shortest Potter epic) to flesh out more essential details, or a shorter running time requiring a much more ruthless editing of the less essential scenes.

I suspect Yates' movie is the best compromise he could muster, given the nearly sacred status afforded Rowling's original text.

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