Saturday, 13 August 2011

Film Review | Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

The Potter film franchise is one that has divided many throughout it's decade-long tenure as one of the most successful film franchises in the history of popular cinema. Those who have wanted faithful interpretations of the books have essentially never had this, with characters and subplots deemed non-essential to the overarching story of Harry versus Voldemort unceremoniously chopped as if they had never existed. My own feelings towards the series have fluctuated throughout, with my main gripe being those films within the franchise that fundamentally become incoherent having had so much excised from the original source material. Alfonso Cuarón's Prizoner Of Azkaban, for example, has so much left out that some parts that are included are simply left hanging as nonsensical half-finished strands.

This was therefore my main concern heading into the final Potter film: would David Yates mangle things by leaving important parts of the final book out? His previous track record made me somewhat optimistic: Order Of The Phoenix, whilst having some elements removed, managed to tell the story of the fifth book faithfully by and large; Half-Blood Prince was less successful in this regard, however, and left me feeling unsatisfied; Deathly Hallows Part 1 posed a new problem - whilst splitting the final novel in two meant that much less is skimmed over or chopped, the film very much felt like half a story, again leaving an unsatisfying feeling. Deathly Hallows Part 2 therefore had a lot to prove - as a continuation and conclusion of the Potter franchise, as an adaptation of the final novel continuing from where Part 1 left off, and as a worthwhile film in its own right.

Thankfully, the film is much more success than failure. Yates wastes no time in getting straight back into the story - there's no preamble, no recap of the events of Part 1, and no information dump of exposition (something which I had prepared myself for, and was glad not to have to endure). This is a relatively bold move, considering the notoriously gentle and comedic openings of many of the previous films. But it works a treat, and we are soon back into what the Potter films generally do best: fantasy action sequences. Within the first half an hour we've had magical larceny, wand-based battles and a dragon. It's almost as if Yates is making up for the sluggish pace and decidedly unspectacular feel of Part 1. But it works, and gives the film a welcome adrenaline-charged start.

The battle sequences in particular are a strength of the film all the way to the end. The scenes are lucid and, for the most part, have a genuine sense of menace to them. One-on-one tests of wandsmanship are at times given short shrift (no doubt many fans will be left wishing Mrs. Weasley's showdown with Bellatrix Lestrange had been given slightly more screen time), but seeing as these are snapshots from within a greater, more epic war, Yates on the whole makes the right decisions.

The whole film, in fact, has a pleasingly epic feel to it that Yates has never managed to nail in his previous efforts. Images such as the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch razed to the ground, along with a stylish touch of a damaged goal hoop later being used as a giant's weapon, and Professor McGonagall summoning the statues that adorn the castle to protect the school will no doubt endure in the minds of the audience long after the credits have rolled.

The script is pretty standard Potter film stuff: key quotes and passages from Rowling's text make it through, but there's nothing too impressive with things regularly becoming fairly functional. It is the performances of the cast as a whole that equates to a large part of the film's success. Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous boy wizard again failed to truly impress me - there's nothing particularly wrong with his performance here, but then there's nothing particularly right about it either. The main thing Radcliffe has going for him at this stage is that there's nobody else who could possibly play Harry Potter for the millions who have spent a decade growing up with his performances.

Rupert Grint and Emma Watson provide no further surprises; the former puts in the strongest performance of the three indicating the most post-Potter promise, whilst the latter's is charming but patchy, although stronger than she has been in previous films in the franchise. In fact, when surveying the performances of the young stars in this film, it is two others who genuinely catch the eye as talents of the future - namely, Matthew Lewis and Tom Felton, who play Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy respectively. Both young men put in strong, mature performances of emotion and depth. Felton has been a dark horse of the series for several films, but Lewis truly raises his game for this final film making Neville an authentic and sympathetic character.

It is the supporting cast who really make the difference, as the talent and star power on offer is simply overwhelming providing a "who's who" of the previous seven films. Big names such as Jim Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane give it their all in roles that have literally minutes of screen time, and it is the willingness of these former key players in the franchise to lend their weight to the film that really gives Yates' film a credence and sense of high quality. Ralph Fiennes' turn as big baddie Voldemort feels as though he has been holding back since his first turn in the role four films previous, and has now let loose in a genuinely maniacal, menacing and downright creepy performance. Praise must also be given to Alan Rickman as Snape, one of the most reliable talents throughout the whole film series, who gives this pivotal and complex character the swansong he deserves with one of the strongest and most moving performances seen in any of the films.

Essentially, In Part 2, Yates finally strikes the right balance of action, drama, emotion, menace and humour on his fourth and final opportunity, creating the strongest of all the Potter films at precisely the right time. The film is a great improvement on the sluggish and unsatisfying Part 1, feeling like its own entity rather than just the second half of a story. In my opinion it shouldn't go down as a truly great film, just a very good one, as the film is by no means perfect. But the spectacular battles and action sequences coupled with the brilliant star power on show makes this a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying conclusion to a film franchise that has gripped popular cinema for a decade.


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