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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: A-

I so wanted Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to be perfect. I should have known better; not one of these films has been, although a couple (2004's Prisoner of Azkaban; 2007's Order of the Phoenix) have come close. But, with the wait finally over for the end of this epic series, under the helm of director David Yates, who is arguably the best the series has seen, one might reasonably expect Deathly Hallows Part 2 at least to be the best of them all. And it just isn't.

There's nothing terribly wrong with it; in fact it's quite good. But there is a lot of small things wrong with it, which collectively have a tendency to needle at nitpickers like myself.

The bottom line is that if this film proves anything, splitting the final chapter into two movies may have made financial sense on the part of Warner Brothers Pictures, but it was clearly at the expense of cohesive artistry. Quentin Tarantino did a far better job at this approach with Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 in 2003 and 2004, where the first film was exciting set-up and the second one thrillingly tied everything together. With Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was a skillfully paced lead-in, all gravitas punctuated by sparingly used excitement, and it worked extremely well. Part 2 is almost all action, to the point where very important events -- several key characters die -- are given so little time that the audience hardly has time to absorb the impact.

Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was two hours and 26 minutes; Part 2 is two hours and 10 minutes. Together they make one full chapter lasting four hours and 36 minutes. As skillfully executed as Part 1 was, a lot of it could have been trimmed in favor of at least some of Part 2 being fleshed out, and then the two could have been combined to make a single, three-hour film that could easily have been superior to either of these two halves taken separately. Warner Brothers' official stance is that they split them in order to fit all the essential elements of the book, but if that's the argument, then why spend an inordinate amount of time on the first half and not enough on the second? Even at 130 minutes, Part 2 feels a mite rushed. Part 2 closes with a lingering sense that maximizing profits really was the driving force behind this decision, and although it's not to a terribly significant degree, the product suffers for it.

Several critics have called this film "the satisfying conclusion" to the Harry Potter saga, and that's an accurate description. I just wish it could have been a thrilling conclusion -- like the book was. Normally I bristle at people's insistence on comparing movies to the books on which they're based because movies should only be judged on their own merits. But in this case, choices have been defended by citing the hallowed source material, and die-hard Harry Potter fans kind of deserve better. That epilogue, so well executed in the book, would have been better scrapped completely from the movie, as the aging makeup looks just awkward enough to be distracting. (And that sequence was re-shot, because the first attempt looked worse.)

Deathly Hallows Part 2 leaves one feeling eminently entertained, there's no doubt about it -- but also a bit unfulfilled, kind of like when you sit to eat a hearty dinner and then discover the portion on your plate is surprisingly small. The food might be delicious, but there's not enough of it. There's only hints of what could have been. It's pretty great, but it could have been spectacular. I was expecting spectacular.

There's also the issue of what works better in a book than in a movie, and admittedly the filmmakers couldn't be faulted for this. Much more so than in the book, the Final Showdown Moment hinging on the "allegiance" of the Elder Wand, rather than on Harry's or Voldemort's actual magical prowess, feels like a copout. The result is a moment of victory in battle that comes from a surprisingly short direct struggle between the two, which is far from cinematic. The battle scenes at Hogwarts -- and there are many -- are pretty well staged (although there are several shots where it's clear the director simply told all the extras, "Just run around willy-nilly!"), but the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry is a bit of a let-down. In terms of the film franchise history alone, we've been waiting ten years for this. And all we get to see is them shooting a constant stream of magic out of their wands at each other? While just standing there? Okay, so at one point Harry pulls Voldemort off a Hofwarts tower and they free-fall for a bit. Woo hoo. For a climactic moment a full decade in the making, the final moment between these two goes down way too quickly.

In the meantime, the staff and students are defending Hogwarts from Voldemort's oncoming army, which cumulatively takes up half the film, if not more. Important characters are sacrificed. It gets to a point they seem to be dropping like flies, and yet they are barely given notice -- and this after Part 1 ending with a far more emotional than necessary sequence dealing with the loss of Dobby the House Elf. Where are these people's priorities, anyway? And don't even get me started on the showdown between Molly Weasley and Bellatrix LeStrange, an exchange transparently included to satisfy fans of the book, and yet compared to the book the scene falls totally flat.

Yes, I have a lot of complaints. I told you I was nitpicky. You might wonder, if I have so many complaints, why I still give the film even as high a grade as B+. Well, because as I said, it's still eminently entertaining. To the credit of Yates, his huge assembly of wonderful actors, and particularly editor Mark Day (who edited all of the Potter films Yates directed), those two hours and ten minutes really fly by. If a movie this long barely feels like an hour has gone by, someone's doing something right.

And in spite of its bevy of flaws, much in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is done right. It starts with a couple of scenes almost curiously quiet and subdued, but once the action starts, it hardly lets up until the end, and most of it is indeed gripping -- and with special effects that, with one or two exceptions, are nearly perfectly rendered. Even here, Yates has a knack for making sure the effects serve the story rather than the other way around.

As for the cast, although many of the supporting characters are given very little screen time (Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn is reduced to mumbling background decoration; blink and you might miss Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney), they're all still a joy to see. Even Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall and Alan Rickman are given comparatively little screen time, and yet they both have come to symbolize such specific characteristics over the years that they elicit the exactly desired response as soon as they appear on screen. (Also, it's a hoot to see McGonagall being at least a little badass.)

In fact, between Rickman's performance and the way the sequence is rendered through special effects, the pivotal moment between Snape and Harry in the film is arguably done better than it was in the book. Harry finally gains some contextual understanding of Snap and his attitudes, and at the same time learns the hard truth about what he must do in his individual battle with Voldemort. It is this moment, perhaps more than any other, where Deathly Hallows, Part 2 both steps away from the relentless action and retains some of the gravitas reserved almost exclusively for Part 1.

I must confess that I enjoyed this film enough that I will likely go see it again, perhaps directly after watching Part 1. To put it in a bit of a more glass-is-half-full kind of way, it may not have realized its potential to be the spectacular conclusion it could have been, but it truly is a satisfying -- if unequivocally imperfect -- conclusion nonetheless.

Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes face off in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2'.

Overall: B+
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