Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, David Yates, 130 mins (12A)
Those magical kids are all grown up and leaving us. I'll miss them, despite myself
Sunday 17 July 2011
At this late stage in the game you probably already know whether you're going to see the new Harry Potter film 15 times while wearing your home-made Hagrid costume, or whether you never want to hear the word "quidditch" again.
But if you're undecided, then I'd give Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 a chance. It's not just the final instalment of the series, it's also the first one in quite some time to have an actual ending. Ever since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (episode five, but who's counting?), none of the films have been self-contained stories, but chapters in a far longer narrative, so it's a relief to see events reaching a definitive climax.
Indeed, the climax takes up half the film. Early on, Harry and chums break into Gringotts Bank – the only sequence to justify the use of 3D – but after that we settle into a full-blown goodies-versus-baddies fight-to-the-death in Hogwarts School. On one side, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are backed by Hogwarts' pupils and teachers; on the other, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, talking more slowly than ever) command their own dark army. Monsters rampage; masonry crashes down all over the place; some of Britain's best actors waggle their wands at each other; and at last you can forget all that confusing blether about prophecies and talismans, and just let the spectacle sweep you long.
And as a spectacle, it's magnificent. You have to take your pointy hat off to Stuart Craig, the production designer, and Tim Burke, the visual effects supervisor: if you're not impressed by the humungous dragons, the enchanted paintings, the looming gothic archways and the cavernous chambers which they conjure up, then cinema probably isn't the thing for you. Having said that, when there's so much going on that even the giant spiders are consigned to the background, then maybe it's inevitable that certain crucial elements should get lost in the chaos. I may not know a horcrux from a patronus, but even I could tell that some key plot points – deaths, a resurrection, the ability to wield a particularly potent wand – zipped by without being given due prominence. And the story itself has its shortcomings. As usual, Harry sleepwalks through the action, doing whatever he's destined to do, while Ron and Hermione's primary purpose is to enact the snog that fans have been waiting for. (Those fans may also be pleased to hear that both Radcliffe and Grint are seen stripping to the waist, while Watson is clad in soaking wet clothes on three separate occasions.)
Instead, the only bona fide heroism comes from Harry's old classmate, the formerly hapless Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), who repeatedly saves the day. Looking back, his progress through the series from clueless stooge to courageous leader is so dramatic that I wonder whether the films should have focused on him all along, rather than the starchy kid who was brave and powerful at the start, and who stayed much the same through to the end.
Still, when you've got combat on this epic scale, with a cast of hundreds, and dozens of richly textured vistas to gawp at, it hardly matters if the three supposed heroes are somewhat dull. It's not just Hogwarts that gets smashed to pieces by the thunderous battle, but the viewer's resistance, too. When the film came to its brisk and restrained conclusion, I wouldn't say I was sad to see the back of the franchise, but I bade it a fonder farewell than I would have expected.
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