What a long strange journey it’s been….
I jumped into the Harry Potter phenomenon round about the time the fifth book, “Order of the Phoenix” was coming out. I spent some time catching up on the series before the book’s release and was impressed to find that for the most part the hype was not unjustified. The books were fun, engaging, and had a wonderful cast of characters. True there were faults, but these could be easily overlooked because the strengths of the story overcame the weaknesses. The same cannot always be said of the movies, which to be honest have been an uneven series at best. The child-like magical realm of the first two films gradually evolved into the adolescent anxieties and darker tones of the middle films, and while all had entertaining bits, none seemed to completely get it right. Until now my favorite of the bunch has been “Prisoner of Azkeban”, the film that broke away from the fairy tale feeling and injected the series with a grittiness and realism that had been sorely lacking. I did not much enjoy “The Half-Blood Prince”, which felt rushed and seemed to cut out some major backstory, and I was more than a little concerned that director David Yates had been retained for the final two installments.
“Deathly Hallows Part 1” was a wonderful surprise. For the first time the acting and story were not overshadowed by the special effects, and we all got to see what happens when a group of child actors spends a decade working with the cream of the crop of British acting. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have all matured into strong performers, who know the acting craft even if they do not possess the charisma of their cast mates.
“Deathly Hallows Part 2” continues the story, and again the actors take center stage. Everyone from the leads on down pours their acting guts out for this last hurrah, and even the spectacular and extended Battle of Hogwarts cannot overshadow the very human drama that is taking place. Radcliffe puts in his best work of the series as Harry is confronted by the truths he never expected to find. Watson and Grint are able as well, but just about every member of this long-standing ensemble gets their moment to shine. Here are a few of the standouts:
Helena Bonham Carter: after having gleefully chewed scenery for four films, she is presented with the challenge of playing Bellatrix as impersonated by Hermione Granger. Carter’s imitation is so spot on that you could actually believe it’s Emma Watson hiding behind her. At one point Ms. Carter has to portray Hermione impersonating Bellatrix, and while a lesser actor might have parodied the character of Bellatrix, Ms. Carter keeps her performance firmly grounded in Hermione’s shoes. It almost makes you believe in polyjuice potion.
Evanna Lynch: Most Potter fans know how Ms. Lynch won the job of Luna Lovegood. While not as strong in the acting department as her castmates, Ms. Lynch takes full advantage of the opportunity to stretch her wings a little, standing up to Harry when he fails to listen to her and sharing a bit of shipper-inspired romance with Neville Longbottom. Which brings us to….
Matthew Lewis: For the win! Who would have thought the dumpy kid we were introduced to in the first film would grow up into a total romantic hero/spell-kicking badass. Readers of the series wanted to be able to cheer for Neville all the way in this movie, and he gets several moments to shine…delivering an unexpected “it ain’t over til it’s over” speech and basically leading the charge against the Death Eaters.
I could mention everyone in the cast and pick out a moment where they were brilliant, from Jason Issac’s portrayal of a broken and terrified Lucius Malfoy, to the unspoken love between Tonks and Lupin, to the tragedy of the twins Fred and George and to Julie Walters in the best-choreographed fight scene in the film.
But Alan Rickman steals the show, both in his final death scene (rewritten to include a line that I felt was sorely missing from the books….you’ll know what I mean when you hear it), and in the flashbacks where Harry finds out the truth about Severus Snape. Rickman brings both the tragedy and the bravery of the character to vivid life in just a few small scenes.
It’s a tribute to this cast that none of them appeared to slouch or stroll their way through the film. Everyone took their job seriously and the fact that they actually outshine the special effects is a testament to their skills. In fact if the film does have a shortcoming it is that the effects department comes up a bit short in places.
But perhaps the best surprise for me was the infamous epilogue. The “Where are they Now?” scene as presented in the book feels clunky, saccharine, and highly lame, but here the filmmakers actually manage to turn the scene into a very tender moment by focusing most of the attention on young Albus Severus Potter. In so doing we are returned for a moment to the child-like wonder of the first films, and we get to relive how the story began in the excited but nervous eyes of Harry’s offspring.
The biggest strength of this film is that it actually improves upon the source material. Some of the weakest parts of the book (like the epilogue) are transformed into wonderful moments, others, like Snape’s death, are given far more weight and drama, and the Neville and Luna sequences are an obvious nod to the fans who thought J. K. dropped the quaffle by not having them together in the first place.
So one acorn for the writing, one for the supporting cast, one for the leads, and one to Jo for bringing this world to life. And half an acorn for awesomeness….
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 gets Four and a Half Acorns out of Five!