Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


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When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit cinemas ten years ago, the world was a very different place. Newcomer Simon Cowell had been on our TV screens for six weeks on Pop Idol, the Irish Celtic Tiger was leaping forward at full pace.
With ropey CGI, a few flat performances from its child stars and the saccharine-sweet direction of Home Alone director Chris Columbus, the film was critically swept away by Peter Jackson’s triumphant Fellowship of the Ring, released a month later.
Startling box office receipts aside (the original is still the highest grossing instalment in the series), not many gave hope that the saga could fully exploit its tremendous British cast and beloved source material. How wrong they were.
The eight and final Harry Potter film has now finally landed in cinemas - with optional 3D gimmickry for the first time- promising to deliver an epic conclusion to one of the most technically astounding series of movie history.  Dark, deep and unafraid to push the boundaries of ‘family entertainment’, it’s a world away from the series dodgy Quidditch encounters of yesteryear.
After watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up before our eyes, director David Yates was faced with a near-impossible and near-thankless task with his fourth Harry Potter movie in as many years – could he reach the finish line and provide a powerful, emotionally satisfying conclusion to a movie series ten years in the making, coupled with the fact that its majority of fans have already envisioned the ending upon the book’s release four years ago?
Critic-proof
Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with ‘You-Know-Who’ picking up the Elder Wand from the crypt of Albus Dumbledore. Ralph Fienne’s nose-less Lord Voldemort and Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter each have a ‘Deathly Hallow’ each at the beginning of the film, with only a Resurrection Stone that stands between. Meanwhile, our trio of heroes continue their search to destroy horcruxes, hidden fragments of Voldemorts soul and the source of his immortality.
Of course, you already know that. In fact, it’s likely that 99% of all cinemagoers this weekend will have already seen the seven preceding instalments, so in that sense Deathly Hallows Part 2 is essentially ‘critic-proof’. Any personal misgivings from critics (I felt that last summer’s Part 1 was prone to meandering and felt padded) are likely to fall on deaf ears, yet that doesn’t mean they should be ignored entirely.
One of the biggest surprises with the epic conclusion to the Harry Potter series is that Deathly Hallows Part 2’s action high point features in the first twenty minutes of the movie and not, as expected, for its third act.
While scenes such as the much-anticipated battle of Hogwarts are strong in sense and scale, Yates is unable to top the daring heist and escape of Gringrott’s Wizarding Bank. Balancing comedy and tension (Emma Watson’s transformation into the devious witch-bitch Bellatrix Lestrange) and culminating an obviously thrilling dragon breakout, it sets a standard which the film is unfortunately unable to maintain.
Lack of impact
As the film’s running 130 minutes trucks along, hugely significant deaths and hugely expensive action scenes pass, yet the script never fully engages on a level that fully expresses the resonance of the peril involved.
What should be iconic showdowns demand grandstanding moments, sharp interplay and thundering orchestral accompaniment, yet the efforts feel strangely ineffectual. If anything, it’s arguable that even Neville Longbottom gets few more third act hero turns than poor Harry.
So while Deathly Hallows Part 2 provides plenty of spectacle, terrific camerawork and world class design, it falters on a narrative level, with scenes feeling laboured when they should be a culmination of anger, courage and reluctant destiny.
On a brighter note, however, the film wisely chooses to ends on a note that avoids the indulgent lap of honour that epic sagas have fallen into (we're point at you, Return of the King) and chooses a denoument that provides wonderful symmetry with Philosopher’s Stone all those years ago.
Much like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga, which was filmed originally as one feature but split into two, the Deathly Hallows source material ultimately feels too big for one movie but too little for two - which is perhaps the final argument on whether or not the movies could ever trump the experience of reading JK Rowling's generation-defining novels.
So while it’s satisfying and sound, Deathly Hallows Part 2 never reaches the magical heights so many may have craved. Though a disappointing finale, there's enough here to ensure that the series’ status as an incredible achievement in modern filmmaking emerges unscathed.

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