10 years, 8 movies, 7 books, and more than six billion dollars in theatre revenue alone – not to mention countless more from DVD sales – there is no question that Harry Potter is the most successful franchise in film history – or in the history of any form of entertainment for that matter. Yet, all those words and figures will count for nothing if the final hurdle is not cleared with flying colours. If this final film fails to satisfy, then there will forever be a bad taste in the mouth that will refuse to go away. The good news is that such worries have proven to be unfounded. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows 2 is a worthy conclusion to the epic story of The Boy Who Lived. It pulls off all the tricks in the fantasy book and culminates the series with the terrific bang that it rightfully deserves.
HPATDH2 begins right where its predecessor left off – in the exact frame actually. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has just gained access to The Elder Wand which he hopes will prove to be the final piece of the puzzle to defeat Harry Potter once and for all. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have just narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Malfoys and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Harry surmises that there must be a horcrux in one of the Gringotts vaults and they decide that their best bet is to start looking there. Of course, it is not long before they return to Hogwarts, the place where it began for all of them, and all hell breaks loose leading to the final confrontation between good and evil.
When it was initially announced that the final book will be split up into two parts, there was a huge uproar among a certain section of fans. It was seen as a decision made only with the intention of filling up the coffers. However, one viewing of this film should change that opinion once and for all. There is no way such a satisfying finale could’ve been served up in a single offering. The first film, slow and meandering though its pace was, painstakingly played its part by setting up all the characters for this one. This second part, on the other hand, is non-stop action from start to finish. Although it feels like the film is unrelenting in its pursuit forward, the pacing is perfect and even those uninitiated in the happenings of the final book will not find it hard to keep up with the action.
However, in order to keep up the pace, compensations had to be made somewhere, and one of the book’s major episodes has been totally omitted from the film. Dumbledore’s backstory provided insight into the former Headmaster of Hogwarts and added a certain level of poignancy to the relationship between Harry and his mentor. This omission is understandable though because it would’ve slowed down the film dramatically and is unnecessary in a film of this sort. The other omission is not nearly as acceptable and is my only major gripe with the film. Before the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, there is a healthy conversation that takes place between them in the book. Its importance lies in that Harry explains why he is better than his adversary and it provides a certain sense of closure to the war between them. Its exclusion makes the final battle seem more of an anti-climax than it felt in the book.
Apart from those few minor nitpicks, director David Yates and screen-writer Steve Kloves deserve a standing ovation for the way they’ve shepherded the series to its conclusion. When the former took over as director in the fifth film, none could’ve imagined the impact his addition would have to the series as a whole. By helming these final four movies, he has proved that he is a visionary filmmaker, and I am now really looking forward to his work outside of this world. Steve Kloves has always worked together with J.K. Rowling in coming up with these adaptations, and it once again shows in the careful manner in which he chooses what scenes to use from the book and what to omit. This film could see Academy nominations for both of them and should definitely warrant a statuette for the latter.
It goes without saying that their success lay not in what they chose to omit, but in what they didn’t. All the remaining necessary sequences from the book make their way into the film, though some of them have been transfigured to make them more appealing to viewers. Arguably the book’s most important sequence is the story of Severus Snape. The film succeeds in making this portion even more heart-wrenching than its printed form and proves, without a doubt, that Alan Rickman is the best cast Harry Potter character ever. In previous movies, his perfect intonations as the big-nosed Snape have made a strong case for the above statement. Yet, he has somehow found a way of adding to that perfection by nailing the performance in those few minutes that it sears itself in our memory forever.
The same can be said of all the other actors and especially the central trinity of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. If 10 years with the crème de la crème of British acting does not improve you as an actor, then nothing will; and it shows in their performances. By now, they’ve really grown into the skin of their characters and you are always looking at only Harry, Ron and Hermione even when you see them outside of the film. Daniel has finally added the emotional gravitas needed to highlight the tragedy of Harry’s life and makes the heavier sequences towards the end of the film work entirely on his own. Emma Watson has cut down on over-doing the expressions and Rupert Grint has added a bit of emotion to his little bag of tricks along with the ever-present comedy. Their first kiss deserves special mention for being as passionate as its written counterpart and it is the chemistry between them that makes it work.
Other returning British thespians perform their roles without enough fuss. Ralph Fiennes’ emotive capabilities were never needed for this role but his delivery of those deliciously twisted dialogues is one the main reasons they work in the first place. Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter (who has a bit of fun playing Hermione for a solitary sequence) all reprise their roles from the previous films. Not to mention Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy are an absolute delight.
In spite of the film’s few light-hearted moments, the overall setting is grim and brutal. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra understands this fully well and uses a dark palette throughout setting the tone for the film as a whole. Special mention also needs to be accorded to the visual effects team who bring to life the burning hell that is Hogwarts during the final battle and the breakout from Gringotts on a dragon’s back. The same cannot be said of the epilogue which is another minor misstep, but this was always going to an awkward sequence given how closely we identify these actors and their age.
When all is said and done, we have to finally say goodbye to The Boy Who Lived. As John Williams’ masterful and unforgettable theme rolls by during the end credits, even the most mature and grown up of us will find it extremely hard to hold back the tears. The film’s final image is a befitting one for the entire series. As the camera lingers on the faces of Harry, Ron and Hermione, we are reminded that even though the books and films may have concluded, these characters will remain etched in our hearts forever. And therein lies the true magic of Harry Potter, not in the books or the movies themselves, but in the characters and world that J.K. Rowling has given us. It lies in the realization that even though the story has been told in its entirety, it will never be forgotten and will be passed on, in both its printed and visual form, for generations to come like Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit before it.