There’s little point in trying to review this last film objectively. Harry Potter episodes ceased the ability to stand on their own as individual films since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That movie was the series’ peak, appropriate enough considering it was nearly the midpoint. As such, there is much to nitpick about the final films. They’re maddeningly convoluted for anyone unfamiliar with the books. New characters keep popping up left and right with mostly tangential importance. Meanwhile, prominent and beloved characters are killed off and their deaths treated as little more than footnotes. As a film fan, this riles me a bit. As a Harry Potter fan, it’s downright scandalous. Nevertheless, there is much to like about the epic finale. Having watched them back-to-back, it will be difficult to review them individually but I’ll give it my best.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
You can read my original review here. Though I enjoyed the film a good deal more this time than the last, the same problems persist. It is as useless as a standalone film as its counterpart and takes its own sweet time getting to the point, whatever point that may be. Nonetheless, there are some truly wonderful moments, especially at the beginning with the three main characters saying goodbye to their familiar lives to set out on a quest from which they may not return. Hermione’s farewell to her parents is quite heartbreaking and foreboding and even Harry seems a bit unraveled by his cruel aunt and uncle’s departure.
Unfortunately for the rest of the film, this half-chapter starts to truly collapse under the weight of its adaptation. A new Minister of Magic is introduced only long enough to be dispatched. Bill Weasley suddenly appears for no other purpose than to give the film a reason to throw a wedding. The lost Sword of Gryffindor materializes apropos of nothing during some cinematic downtime. A detour to Harry’s birthplace introduces more faceless names and confusing revelations. The list goes on. The only thing that saved it for me was the knowledge that part two was hot on its heels. Otherwise, it barely qualifies as a fragment.
Best Bit: The Tale of the Three Brothers is perhaps the finest sequence in the entire Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Which brings us to the last, concluding, final, ultimate, closing finale. At this point, it’s little more than a two-hour climax but it is a stellar crescendo that draws you in so fully that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. All questions are answered, more or less, though some awkward filmmaking raises a few others. The good news is that most of the characters and situations have been set up and dealt with already, though the second half can’t resist adding one more major character into the mix in the form of Aberforth Dumbledore, the deceased headmaster’s brother (played by an unrecognizable Ciarán Hinds). Additionally, things that seem to have serious import in other films are barely glossed over here. At the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, much is made over the initials R.A.B. written on a scrap of paper inside a counterfeit horcrux. Here, it is merely another in a long line of clues that lead to either the Sword of Gryffindor or one of the deathly hallows. Author J.K. Rowling has gone a little overboard with the treasure-seeking. When translated to film, it’s at least one macguffin too many.
(I’ve tried to avoid them but spoilers will follow. Read at your peril)
The deathly hallows themselves turn out to be mostly a failed promise. There is much talk about what they become when brought together but they never really are. Though Harry eventually winds up with all of them, they may as well just be individual trinkets in his personal arsenal. He doesn’t even get his hands on the last one, the Elder wand, the most powerful wand in the world, until the very last moment, and he rids himself of it almost as quickly as he attains it. Seemingly the most potent one, the resurrection stone, he drops in the forest as if it’s a used candy wrapper. Is this thing one use only? The third one, the invisibility cloak, which Harry himself has had since his first year, also does duty alone. Yet the deathly hallows are treated with such reverence and foreboding one wonders why the whole trinity wasn’t on Voldemort’s to-do list.
These can be considered trifles but they are some serious narrative faux-pas. However, as overstuffed as it is, this final film delivers what it promises. You either go along for the ride or you don’t. I went. I loved it. It’s loaded with enough great moments to overcome the flaws: Helen Bonham Carter channeling Emma Watson as Hermione goes undercover disguised as Bellatrix Lestrange; Harry discovering the truth about Snape; Neville stepping forth and standing alone in front Voldemort and his army, as well as delivering the death blow to the last of his horcruxes; and finally, Harry’s fearless self-sacrifice and confrontation against his lifelong nemesis.
The coda is both cheesy and sweet. As an admirer of both flavors, I enjoyed it, particularly the way it brings the entire journey full circle. Harry’s final tribute to his longtime nemesis, Snape, is also quite touching.
When all is said and done, the film does what it sets out to do, take the audience on an exciting and emotional ride that doesn’t disappoint.
Best Bit: Prim and proper Professor Minerva McGonagall stepping in to protect Harry Potter from ostensible Death Eater Severus Snape, besting him in a duel of wands and causing him to flee Hogwarts.
Disagree? That’s fine by me. Share your thoughts below.