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Monday, August 1, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

The series comes to a close with arguably the best installment in the series; one that will conjure a couple of tears and memories for a generation that has grown up with these movies.

Who would have thought ten years ago when the first Harry Potter movie was made that the series would grow into the astonishing cinematic phenomenon that it is today. We have gone through eight installments to get to the end, and if the barrage of propaganda hasn’t already made it clear, it is indeed the end.

There isn’t much argument against the fact that the first installments in the series weren’t the best, but where credit is deserved credit must be given, and in this case it goes to Chris Columbus, the director of the first two films. Columbus is, after all, the man who cast the three leads that eventually became one of the series’ most important possessions.

After Columbus came Alfonso CuarĂ³n who directed the much acclaimed third installment The Prisoner of Azkaban, then Mike Newell who directed The Goblet of Fire, and finally David Yates, who went on to direct the final four films in the series. Yates is the director who began to inject a sense of maturity in the series, and with him the films began to get progressively darker. He has directed the last four installments which add up to be half of all the films in the series, and has done a job that I describe as commendable.

When it came to the point where the last installment, The Deathly Hallows, was split into the films, the decision was at first viewed as a greedy executive move aimed at doubling the revenue and squeezing every last dollar from the series as possible. I admit that even I didn’t quite agree with it, but when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was released, my mind had been changed. And if anyone still had any doubts about the split, I am sure that after watching this last installment, they will be glad that this was the way things turned out.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the series so far, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is by no means the place to begin, nor the place to catch up again. For any of you who walk into the theatre with the nerve of asking what a Horcrux is or who still confuse Professor Dumbledore with Professor Snape, be prepared to watch a film that might as well be in another language.

What’s more; it might even be a good idea to re-watch Part 1 before going into this, because Part 2 wastes no time in catching up those who haven’t been doing so or reminding any of us where we are picking up from. It begins right where its precedent left off; the evil Lord Voldemort has gotten hold of the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in the world, which also happens to be one of the Deathly Hallows – three objects that together make one master of death. Now, all he has left is to go after the only individual with the power to defeat him, Harry Potter.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the hunt for the remaining of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, pieces of his soul which he has concealed in other objects. Without their destruction, the Dark Lord is immortal. Having already destroyed one in the previous installment, Harry and his friends have three more to go. One is in Gringotts Bank, inside Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault, and the other is somewhere inside of Hogwarts. Getting them is no easy task given that Gringotts has a reputation of being impossible to break into, and that Hogwarts is no longer the jovial, happy-go-lucky castle that it used to be. Now under the supervision of the sinister and mysterious Professor Snape, Hogwarts resembles more of a concentration camp than a boarding school, and getting in will be more complicated than simply waltzing in through the gates.

All this leads up to the much anticipated final battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort; the moment of truth, the answering of all of the questions, and the finale that the world has been waiting a decade for.

If Part 1 was a slower, character based, and more tone setting, than this one is the exact opposite. Seven other films have been leading up to this one with the pretense that it will be a battle of epic proportions, and it delivers as promised. There is no beginning, middle, or end in this one. Instead, it is a two hour long climax in which the story finally unfolds and brings along with it everything it has. It is relentless in its brisk pace and at the rate in which it throws action scenes after actions scene at the screen.

And must I say - it is exhilarating. Finally, we are able to receive the extraordinary battle and just sit there and indulge it. We are, finally, having our cake and eating it.

The visual effects are spectacular and have never been better, from the smallest spell flying of the tip of a wand to a dragon taking off from the rooftops at Diagon Alley. We are given some amazing set pieces, in particular the breaking into Gringotts, a flight from a raging fire in the Room of Requirement, and of course, the Battle of Hogwarts, which indeed is everything you would expect from the finale of these films.

The acting in the final film is as grand as the film itself. Ralph Fiennes brings it his all as Lord Voldemort, and is given the opportunity to finally give the performance that shows the true extent of his acting abilities in the series. His work here is applause worthy, and gives his character moments that are genuinely terrifying, as well as those in which his vulnerability is enough to even make you vaguely pity him.

It is a performance that is of award caliber, but it isn’t the only one. To me, the standout performance was Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Rickman has always been a pleasure to watch on screen – the way he lets each line of dialogue slither out the tip of his tongue while maintaining the same sinister-neutral expression has made him an audience pleaser. And now that Rickman’s character shows his true colors, he shows some of the best acting he has ever given; it is a commendable, moving performance that more than steals the show.

What feels even more rewarding is how this last film gives some of the favorite and minor characters a chance to finally have their moment in the spotlight – a spotlight that in the series has been filled with far too many notable characters and actors to give them all a fair amount of screen time. Maggie Smith is absolutely delightful as Professor McGonagall, and is given several redeeming moments and priceless lines of dialogue which make it worth her having a scarcity of appearance many other installments in the series. The same can be said for Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, the once-was-cowardly-laughing-stock who gets a heroic revelation.

Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as Bellatrix Lestrange, particularly in a scene in which she plays a transformed Hermione Granger attempting to impersonate her character. There’s also Michael Gambon who gets to have one final appearance as Professor Dumbledore, Julie Walters as Molly Weasley, Kelly Macdonald who pays the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw, and a surprisingly impressive Warwick Davis as Griphook, the goblin who aids Harry and his friends in breaking into Gringotts.

But undeniably, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint – the eleven year olds grown into twenty year olds who we have watched grow up during the course of the past decade – are the ones who are most rewarding to watch on screen. They are all at their acting best, especially Radcliffe, who has done a fine job indeed of portraying the titular character that has become an icon throughout the course of the series. Radcliffe really knows how to express emotion, and that is something that has proved a great strength in these films. His stiff acting has evolved, and now he has grown into an excellent actor who I hope I we will see more of in the future, along with Watson and Grint.

The special effects are, as expected, breathtaking. But what took me by surprise was the cinematography. Part 2 could have followed the trend that began with Yates’ first installment – it got darker, and darker, and darker. And with this being the final film, and the darkest in terms of story, what I expected is for the picture to have the most aesthetically dark palette of the series. I was surprised to see that many scenes in the movie where more on the bright side, but with a pale tone that helped set the apocalyptic mood of the film.

In fact, one of the things that the film succeeds at doing the best is setting a very fitting tone; it is grim and tense, but never too much so. What must also be complemented is the soundtrack, composed by Alexandre Desplat. Desplat took a risk; instead of going for the typical blasting of music every time there is an action sequence, the movie chooses to tone the music down and let the large scale events in the movie emit emotion for themselves. This was something that could have made the action sequences seem underwhelming, but thankfully, this wasn’t the case. Instead, they seem more dramatic and genuine.

But in the end, what is most appreciated is how the magic has remained through eight films, four directors, and a whole decade. The series comes to a close with arguably the best installment in the series; one that will conjure a couple of tears and memories for a generation that has grown up with these movies. It ends on a note of satisfaction rather than devastation – but most of all, on that is abundant with the genuine, hard to find magic that will remain within us for a very, very long time.


That Blond Guy said...

Although I think this review is fantastically written, I have to say that I completely disagree. I agree with many of your points, such as that the movie is a two-hour-long climax and that the special effects are, admittedly, pretty fantastic, I found the movie to be profoundly disappointing.

Then again, I'm a freak for the books, and I've never liked the movies.

Nicolas Lopez said...

I guess if you've never liked the movies than this one was bound to be a disappointment for you as well.
Well everybody has their cup of tea.