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4 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Anything But Deathly"
4 stars

The good news about “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II,” the eighth and final installment in the enormously popular series of screen adaptations of the equally successful books by J.K. Rowling is that it is an expertly done example of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking that simultaneously dazzles the eye and touches the heart in ways that will thrill and delight in equal measure both those who have been spellbound by the screen adventures of everyone’s favorite boy wizard since they first began unspooling back in 2001 and those inexplicable few who have somehow never been exposed to them before but who don’t want to be left out of the conclusion of a genuine pop culture touchstone. The bad news is that due to a decision as diabolical and cruel as any conjured up by the saga’s rogues gallery of villains, many viewers will have difficulty actually seeing what is going on thanks to the late-inning addition of that old bugaboo 3-D, a cravenly commercial consideration on the part of Warner Brothers designed solely to fatten their coffers further even at the expense of tarnishing what might have otherwise been a glorious capping-off of a property that has otherwise served them well over the last decade.

Picking up immediately where last winter’s “Part I” left off, the story sees Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), along with ever-loyal pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), way from the once-friendly confines of Hogwarts, continuing the search for the hidden Horcruxes that, when found and destroyed, will help weaken the increasingly dangerous and powerful Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) enough so that Harry can finally defeat him in a battle that has been brewing ever since he killed Harry’s parents back when he was just an infant. (And yes, this review is assuming that you have some basic working knowledge of the Potter universe--if you don’t and aren’t just reading this for my deathless prose, you might want to consider setting this review aside for now because it is only going to make less and less sense as things go on.) After making a stop at Gringott’s Bank in order to sneak into the vault belonging to Voldemort’s right-hand woman Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) in order to destroy the Horcrux hidden within--an escapade that includes such typical devices as treacherous gnomes, enchanted swords, fire-breathing dragons, roller-coasters hurtling over impossibly deep chasms and the sight of the eternally adorable Hermione attempting to impersonate the eternally evil (though admittedly adorable in her own way) Bellatrix--the trio discovers that what may be the last of the devices lies within the walls of Hogwarts, now under the control of the nasty Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) following his murder of previous headmaster (and Potter mentor) Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).

When the three return to Hogwarts, they find that it has been transformed from a formerly warm and inviting environment into a dark and treacherous fortress that, on the grand scale of cinematic depictions of gloomy British boarding schools, falls somewhere between the ones seen in “If. . .” and “Pink Floyd The Wall” and that Voldemort and his forces are fast approaching with the intention of laying siege to the place and its students unless Potter gives himself up at last. Instead of sacrificing Harry, most of the students--excepting the evil twerps from the malevolent Slytherin House--and the faculty band together for once last stand in order to save both their friend and their school. In the apocalyptic battle that ensues, long-kept secrets are revealed, seemingly inexplicable betrayals are finally explained, barely hidden romantic feelings are finally expressed, beloved supporting characters fall while others are allowed to triumph, many spells are cast and many things are blown to bits before the final mano-a-mano confrontation, one eighteen years in the making, between Harry and Voldemort with their lives and, presumably, the fate of the world hanging in the balance. I wouldn’t dream of revealing how it all turns out--though I suspect most of you either know or can hazard a fairly educated guess, but I will merely mention that no matter which of the two emerges triumphant, my guess is that Hogwarts alumni donations are likely to drop considerably for the next couple of years as a result of what transpires here.

Magic has, of course, always been at the forefront of the Harry Potter universe but the most magical thing about the films as a whole and this one in particular is how high the quality control has remained over the years. Under normal circumstances, even the most popular film franchises have tended to wilt after a while due to a combination of complacency on the part of the filmmakers (who figure that they have enough of a captive audience so that they can simply serve them more of the same instead of providing them with something new and different) and apathy on the part of viewers (who mindlessly fork over the admission price even though they are just getting more of the same)--pretty much every long-running movie series (even such perennials as the “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and James Bond sagas) have succumbed to this at some point. On the other hand, even though film versions of the Harry Potter books are about the closest thing to a sure bet that Hollywood has seen in its entire history, the people behind the franchise have not used their colossal success to rest on their laurels. Instead, they have continued to develop and expand with each subsequent episode in ways that simultaneously follow the increasingly darker and more mature tone of Rowling’s novels and recognize that the young audience members that fell in love with the first film ten years ago are older and have more grown-up concerns (such as questions about love, mortality and finding ones place in the world) that are expertly mirrored in the increasingly complex narratives. Although some snobbier critics are liable to dismiss the Potter films as fluff for kids, they are in fact very much because they are smartly conceived stories that are the very definition of family entertainment in that there is something of value in them for viewers of all ages to savor when the initial awe over the elaborate special effects has faded away. (That said, this film is rated PG-13 and is so for very good reasons--between the intense battle scenes and glimpses of horrors ranging from terrifying monsters to tragic glimpses of fallen comrades, this is probably way too intense for younger or more sensitive viewers and parents should take that into account before deciding to see it.)

In bringing the books to the screen, the producers of the Potter films hit upon the extraordinary good luck of getting the right people to bring them to the screen and then sticking with most of them over the years or, when replacements needed to be found, finding equally right people to appear in their stead. Making his fourth entry in the series, director David Yates once again does an impressive and surprisingly subtle job of juggling the material so that the massive effects-heavy set-pieces don’t overwhelm the quieter, character-driven moments or set younger viewers squirming in their seats when people are talking instead of waving their wands around. If there is a complaint to be lodged against Yates at all, it is that he doesn’t quite yet have the distinct personal visual imagination of a filmmaker like Alfredo Cuaron, whose “Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban” remains the high point of the series, or Terry Gilliam, who Rowling herself once suggested as a potential director, but considering how good his efforts have been, this seems like a minor quibble at best. One of the secret weapons and unsung heroes of the series has been screenwriter Steve Kloves, who has written the scripts for all but one of the films and has faced the unenviable task of transforming Rowlings sprawling and highly detailed narratives into stories that would satisfy both the requirements of fans, who would most likely throw a fit if any major changes were made to the material, and the need to keep the running time reined in to a reasonable figure. Here, he faces the additional challenges of coming up with a screenplay that wraps up not only its own self-contained story but the entire saga as well while still remembering to work in the expected action beats and giving proper send-offs to an enormous cast of characters miraculously manages to pull it off. While the first part of “Deathly Hollows” may have necessarily left some viewers a little frustrated from a dramatic standpoint since it was all set-up and no resolution and was somewhat lacking in action, this one manages to pay off all of those loose ends while offering a nice counterbalance of wild action (especially the final siege of Hogwarts that, for my money, puts even the sacking of Chicago in “Transformers 3” to shame) to the earlier film’s drama-heavy slant so that the two parts finally become one lovely and compelling whole.

However, all of the efforts of Yates, Kloves and the literal army of behind-the-scenes technicians would have been for naught if it weren’t for the efforts of the sprawling cast of actors who have taking their characters and brought them to real and recognizable life. Of course, considering that it seems as if half of British Equity has popped up in at least one Potter film over the years, it would seem as though good performances would be given but that is not necessarily the case. Many times in a film of this type, the tendency among actors is to go broad and play to the rafters on the theory that a.) they need to compete with the special effects and b.) it is just a bunch of nonsense involving elves and magic and whatnot that doesn’t need to be taken that seriously. Since one of the things that have made these stories so beloved both in print and on the screen is how they have managed to blend the fantastical with the realistic, such an approach would be disastrous as a histrionic and showy turn would shatter that delicate sense of reality and once that is gone, it can never be gotten back. Here, the vast cast of legendary actors--including Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon and many more to boot--may be dressed in oddball costumes and spouting arcane dialogue about magical spells and the like but they go after there roles as seriously as they would if they were doing Shakespeare and the dramatic heft given by their deft and subtle underplaying helps to raise the emotional stakes of the material throughout. (The only person who really does any sort of overacting is Helena Bonham Carter as the loathsome Bellatrix but in her case, such an approach is warranted as that is the kind of character that is almost impossible to go to far with from a performance perspective.) And yet, as good as they are, the MVP’s are the three kids who were plucked from obscurity to embody the roles of Harry, Hermione and Ron. Back when they were initially cast in the first film, who could have possibly guessed that they would be able to handle the increasingly heavy acting workload required to pull off Rowling’s then-unwritten narratives? And yet, as the roles have grown in complexity over the years, so have the performances of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint and it is their work, when all is said and done, that is the true heart of the series. As the best pals and loyal sidekicks of the hero, Hermione and Ron could have easily just become run-of-the-mill second bananas but thanks to the work of Watson and Grint, they have become absolutely indispensable and one of the high points of the film is the moment when the long-budding romance that has slowly but surely developing between the alpha-witch Hermione and the laid-back Ron finally blooms during what might be considered an especially inopportune moment. As for Radcliffe, he may have initially been cast because of his resemblance to Rowling’s conception of Potter but he has also developed into a strong and sure actor capable of more than holding his own against his heavyweight castmates and he once again proves here that he is not just the perfect Harry Potter but that, unlike so many child actors over the years, he has the stuff that it takes to make it in the adult roles that he will be shifting towards now that the Potter franchise is at its end.

As wonderful as this film is, I do have two quibbles with it--one minor and one major. The minor one, and it is one that I presume comes straight from Rowling’s book, is that I wish that the final showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort had entailed something a little more original than a pseudo-duel in which they fire magical energy bolts at each other from their wands. The way it is presented isn’t bad, per se, and as scenes in which a couple of actors hurl elaborate special effects at each other go, it is as exciting and emotionally felt as such things can possibly be from both an action and a dramatic perspective but in the end, it is still a couple of actors hurling elaborate special effects at each other and it just seems that a story of this size and scope, especially one that has demonstrated such a flair for invention and ingenuity in the past, requires something a little more distinctive as a grand finale. The major problem, the one that finally prevents me from offering up the full-out rave that the film would otherwise richly deserve, is the utterly useless deployment of the Muggle-level magic that is reconverted 3-D. You may recall that the first part of “Deathly Hollows” was originally scheduled to be released in 3-D as well until it was announced that there wasn’t enough time to properly pull off the process, an announcement that was met with great rejoicing from a viewing public that had already been burned by the ineptly retrofitted likes of “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender.” If only Warner Brothers had listened to that collective sigh of relief and scrapped the conversion for this one as well because while the process may have improved somewhat with practice, it really doesn’t work here at all. The problem is that as a result of the special lenses and glasses required to make the process work to the degree that it does, the brightness of the screen image is dimmed considerably, some time by up to 20-30% darker than originally intended. Unfortunately, nearly all of this particular film takes place within the confines of a dark and gloomy castle over the course of one long night and as a result, the image is so dark at times that even Gordon Willis might find it a bit much. Considering the fact that there was no way that this film was going to be anything but a mammoth box-office sensation, the inclusion of 3-D just seems like a crass move designed solely to squeeze as much money out of the franchise during its last hurrah as possible and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth along with the ache in the eyes. On the bright side, literally, there are plenty of theater showing it in 2-D and that is the only way that it should really be seen in order to get the full impact.

Those problems aside, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II” is pretty much a delight from start to finish that will thrill and touch audiences and leave them wanting more even as it concludes in an extremely satisfying and graceful manner. While I can’t say that my enthusiasm for the Potter saga would have continued if it had gone on for very much further--as enchanting as they have been, there is a limit to ones tolerance for films involving magical spells, mystical potions and Maggie Smith in a pointy hat--I am happy to have seen these films and even happier that they have managed to prove conclusively that a family-oriented franchise of this sort can actually work as a complete artistic statement as well as a vehicle for selling billons of dollars of books, toys and other ancillary paraphernalia. Who knows, perhaps it will inspire other studios to make a little effort and come up with something other than lazy and noisy rip-offs that are little more than extended commercials for a whole bunch of tie-in crap. Alas, considering the generally cruddiness of the films that have already tried to repeat the Potter formula without much artistic of financial success, that unfortunately may not be happening anytime soon. However, my hope is that such a time will eventually happen--perhaps fueled by a new generation of filmmakers who were as inspired by the Potter movies as an earlier generation was with the likes of “Star Wars”--and until that day comes, I guess we still have the DVDs to tide us over.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20585&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/14/11 12:00:00
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User Comments

4/06/19 Kickin it Great ending to a great series 5 stars
4/13/15 maestraretirada dissapointment conclusion. seriously yates totally ruined it. 2 stars
3/02/15 john lasseter another dissapointment series. david yates must be learn to peter jackson 2 stars
2/27/15 ewoks HARRY POTTER PHENOMENA IS *BEEP* 1 stars
2/27/15 michael duel between harry and voldemort totally idiotic 1 stars
2/19/15 hhshjjsjj horrible idiot retarded stupid childish film 1 stars
2/14/15 enicmatic al battle of hogwarts and battle of pelennor fields which is better? oh yeah we all know about 2 stars
2/14/15 jason gracio is this batman and robin film? 1 stars
2/13/15 well done pathetic and fucking awful film to end the shit series 2 stars
1/23/15 julian i didn't like this movie 1 stars
1/22/15 scott i saw this movie last night and finally MEH!!!! 1 stars
1/10/15 hanna PATHETIC but cool for children and retarded people 1 stars
1/10/15 mister empire absolutely piece of SHIT like nolan batman 1 stars
1/09/15 movie fan this movie is just OVERHYPED 1 stars
1/09/15 michelle this movie totally rip off lord of the rings 1 stars
1/08/15 vendoza this movie is shit 1 stars
1/07/15 vanessa most shittiest mobie ever made! 1 stars
1/06/15 brando overrated 1 stars
7/17/14 Marlon this movie sucks!!! 1 stars
8/28/12 Alex Figueroa It was amazing. 5 stars
7/12/12 Aimee Fontenot Better than the 2nd movie, but still not as good as the first. 4 stars
6/10/12 Gob tedious but cool for kids 2 stars
12/24/11 debbie hodgdon hated the ending 4 stars
8/12/11 Eric Ivins Was a good last episode 4 stars
8/09/11 The Big D Toni's right--this one' 4 stars
7/24/11 M Zzzzzz..... 1 stars
7/17/11 Flipsider It was good, but I actually wished there was a bit more exposition. 4 stars
7/16/11 Toni Awesome, best of the series! 5 stars
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  15-Jul-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Nov-2011


  DVD: 08-Nov-2011

Directed by
  David Yates

Written by
  Steve Kloves

  Daniel Radcliffe
  Rupert Grint
  Emma Watson

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