Thursday 11 August 2011


Thursday 11 August 2011
directed by David Yates; written by Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K Rowling)
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman & Ralph Fiennes

After a reprise of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1's closing scene, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) retrieving the fabled Elder Wand from the entombed corpse of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and firing a triumphant bolt of energy into the heavens, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 continues without interruption—so I recommend you get reacquainted with the previous film, or risk spending the first section of Hallows 2 trying to remember how and why Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) captured a grumpy goblin, and that Hermione (Emma Watson) can transform into the likeness of wicked witch Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).

Of course, the Harry Potter movies tend to assume the majority of the audience have read the books till they're dog-eared, which is probably true, but not in my case. For me, the Potter saga has been an exclusively cinematic experience, but I finish many installments with questions and confusions buzzing around my brain. Whatever happened to that nice Chinese girl Harry kissed once? When did Ginny Weasley and Harry get together? Whatever happened to Moaning Myrtle, whose role as "resident ghost" is supplanted here by the Grey Lady (Kelly Macdonald)?

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

After eight movies covering seven increasingly hefty books, I think it's safe to say the saga's narrative could have been improved by writing the scripts with the benefit of having all Joanne Rowling's completed books to draw from. Instead, the movies were being made before J.K had finished the fifth tome, and despite the guidance she kindly gave laudable screenwriter Steve Kloves (highlight this character more because he'll be important later, wink-wink), a feeling lingers that the movies were incapable of properly developing or emphasizing key ideas, characters, and storylines that became important in the latter films. A case in point: I have no doubt that Warner Bros would have insisted a better actress play Ginny Wesley, and Kloves would have developed that character more, had everyone known she'd become the hero's love-interest.

Hallows 2 is just an extended climax of its immediate predecessor; a movie that brings a dazzling sense of pace and energy to the often sluggish franchise, in particular contrast to quiet and character-focused Hallows 1. It's not long before we're watching an exciting Potterverse bank heist at Gringotts (where a terrific dragon's ued as the getaway car), and then we're back inside the oppressed Hogwarts—now run by traitorous, dictatorial headmaster Snape (Alan Rickman)—before the students regain power and batten down the hatches in preparation for Voldemort's arrival with his army of Death Eaters. It's an epic clash evoking The Lord Of The Rings' fabulous Siege of Gondor, only involving characters you have deeper attachment to.

In many ways Hallows 2 is one of the least nuanced and plotted installments, but after seven films nudging the mytharc along (often within the confines of self-contained mysteries), it feels only right the boy-wizard's climax is an epic action movie involving animated stone knights, club-wielding trolls, giant spiders, ethereal Dementors, and thousands of wizards spitting spells with their wands. Of particular merit were the World War II feel to battle sequences—with Hogwarts analogous to liberal Britain and Voldemort's cronies representing fascist Nazi Germany. This war movie vibe echoed through the design of the half-demolished school, resembling areas of post-Blitz London with '40s-style wooden stretchers to ferry the injured away.

"You were right, never better. I feel like I can spit fire."

The lead triumvirate of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have grown into their characters and play them well, with Radcliffe delivering his best performance yet with clenched determination. It's just a shame Watson and Grint don't have much to do beyond chase a big snake around before sharing a kiss (a moment that flops because, honestly, who's ever believed Hermione was attracted to twerpy Ron?) It's particularly sad to realize that Hermione has faded from the plucky young know-all of yesteryear into someone who can't even summon the courage to destroy a horcrux by herself, fated to live out her days as a wife and mother? Considering Rowling's claim that Hermione's essentially herself as a young girl, it's especially disappointing treatment by the author. Rowling even gave an imperative and heroic moment to a relative background character like Neville Longbottom? Astonishingly poor judgement, at least from the perspective of what the movies have given us. (For all I know Neville was a boy of considerable depth and latent valor in the books—anyone care to shed some light?)

Such is the busyness of Hallows 2, most of the adults are just wheeled on to prove they're still on the payroll (hello Mark Williams and Julie Walters, nice to see you again Emma Thompson and David Thewlis), with the exception of the delightfully eerie Alan Rickman—who almost steals the show thanks to a sublime final moment with Radcliffe, leading to a revelatory flashback for Snape that, despite slightly undermining a sacrifice, was brilliantly handled and highly charged. Fiennes also receives a greater amount of screen time than ever before, cementing Lord Voldemort as one of fiction's greatest villains. Seeing the Dark Lord slowly emasculated by every horcrux's destruction, his power chiefly derived from a serpent (how Jungian!), made for compelling drama.

"It seems despite your exhaustive defensive strategies, you still have a bit of a security problem, Headmaster."

To its credit, the mechanics of how Harry triumphs over his arch-nemesis has good internal logic and a few surprises that feel plausible, blessed with some very memorable imagery (a dueling Harry and Voldemort locked in a Star Wars-esque stalemate with fizzing wands, an embryonic Voldemort curled into a fetal position), and the only real letdown is the inclusion of the novel's contentious coda involving a limp flash-forward. It may have felt daft on the page, but at least your imagination could do a better makeup job.

Overall, this conclusion of the long-running, astonishingly popular Harry Potter saga is unlikely to disappoint its fans, and even people left scratching their head over various matters will have been too entertained to really care. At times Hallows 2 delivers edge-of-your seat action, not to mention some emotional peaks that should elicit some lump-in-your-throat moments. For all its faults, and problems with the series as a whole (which danced with greatness, but never seized it), the majesty and ambition of this franchise is beyond reproach. A remarkable contemporary mythology; these spellbinding films, like the best-selling books, will be entertaining us for many years to come.

Warner Bros. Pictures / 130 minutes