fri 19/07/2024

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (3D) | reviews, news & interviews

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (3D)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (3D)

And action! The franchise finally goes out with a satisfying bang

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint: Looking for the exit from the gilded prison that is Warner Bros' vision of Hogwarts?

So. That’s it then. It’s taken just shy of 20 hours to work through the lot, a gestation spread across a decade. Every British actor in the firmament has visited the Leavesden set to chew on some of the computer-generated furniture. Several trillion techie hours have been racked up on achieving SFX which wouldn’t have been even a twinkle in a geek’s eye when JK Rowling first conceived the seven-part tale of a boy wizard.

And a trio of young actors cast before puberty have missed out on a decade’s worth of regular schooling. Instead they’ve been boarding at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Other things have happened too: terrorism, wars, natural disasters etc.) It's been a long old haul for everyone. After all that, is the last part of Harry Potter actually up to snuff?

I put on my 3D specs, briefly wondering if the characters would be enhanced from 2D too, but mainly thinking one thing: after all the money they’ve taken, which like the gold goblets in the goblins’ bank vault multiplies at the touch, it had better be good. So it’s a pleasure and, more than that, a monumental relief to be able to report that the eighth instalment of the most financially successful but not always filmically assured franchise in Hollywood history ends not with a fizzly whimper but a most satisfying bang. It's even a bit moving, the fantasy equivalent of waving your children off to university.

Part 1 was a necessary prequel which all but expired of existential inertia

At times during the previous three films it has felt like being stuck in some kind of looping symphony without end, all self-important longueurs, penultimate climaxes, hurrying and scurrying and signifying not a whole lot. There was of course a major time lag issue. The last book was published in July 2007 just as the fourth to last film was hitting worldwide screens. For aeons now we've all known exactly where the juggernaut was heading - which characters would be culled film by film, which teenagers would snog and when. But boy have we had to hang around. Rather than be put on hold for yet another year, wait again for the anointed trio to walk Leicester Square’s carpet of fame, more than once you’ve wanted to wave a wand and utter the magical incantation, “Acceleratiamus!”

The people who make money out of these things had other ideas. They will have rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of the last book being split asunder and doubling their marketing opportunities. From a narrative standpoint it now appears to have been the right call. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was a necessary prequel which all but expired of existential inertia. Part 2 fizzes with kinetic energy and teen spirit.HP7-PT2-TRL-0957We begin where we left off, with Harry, Ron and Hermione hunting for horcruxes. If you have no idea what that means then you probably shouldn’t be reading this, nor of course going anywhere near the film. That said, I can’t be the only parent a bit befogged by the minutiae of Potter lore. “What do you know about the deathly hallows?” asks Dumbledore’s brother, played from behind the wig department’s regular shagpile arrangement by Ciarán Hinds. Answer: since sitting through Part 1 a year ago? Not a lot. Anyway, the search leads them into the film’s first and best set-piece sequence to retrieve a goblet in the vault of Gringott’s bank, accessible by theme park ride and guarded by a splendid albino dragon (pictured above).

Every time they find and destroy another horcrux, a little bit of Ralph Fiennes dies. In his final outing as You Know Who, Fiennes gives it a full swing of the wand: part Richard III, part pantomime villain, he struts and frets his quarter-hour upon the screen with a full understanding of the vaudevillean requirements. (This is not part of the review but I’ve always wanted to know: how do they create that serpentine snout of his? Please, answers in the comment box.) As for the other supporting players, the trail leads duly back to Hogwarts where Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith are waiting to twitch those facial muscles one last time. I interviewed Dame Maggie not long after filming was completed and found her in a condition of some relief that it was all over. “Alan Rickman and I ran out of reaction shots!” she confided. “We couldn’t think what sort of faces we would pull. I remember him saying he’d got up to about 360-something and there weren’t any left!”

HP7-PT2-TRL-1153Rickman has mainly worked from a narrow palette on this long walk on the dark side, honing his lip curl and nostril flare, keeping those eyelids in a permanent state of hooded menace. Here at last his Professor Snape (pictured above) reveals new colours as his ghastly demise is barely seen through mullioned windows, but loudly reported in thwacks and thuds. Black, it turns out, is the new white. Good stuff. It's a shame that the valedictory shot of Professor McGonagall seems to have fetched up on the cutting-room floor, but Dame Maggie does get a brief moment in focus. “I’ve always wanted to do that spell,” she coos excitedly after summoning an army of sandstone knights down from the walls - one of several tension-relieving punchlines lightening Steve Kloves’s clear and uncluttered script. It is also rather touching to see Geraldine Somerville (pictured below) as Potter’s mother Lily, usually confined to waving from mirrors but here given something pivotal to do and say.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-part-2-second-trailer-harry-potter-22953636-1000-423Even so, it never gets less weird to see a crop of great actors consigned, by the exigencies of lean storytelling, almost back to the silent age of the cinema: in this farewell there is one line each for Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent and Helen McCrory, and none at all for Miriam Margolyes and Gemma Jones. That’s a very wasteful arrangement of wall flowers. At least Julie Walters’s lone line is a good one. “Not my daughter too, you bitch!” she screams at Helena Bonham Carter's loopy Bellatrix Lestrange before cathartically zapping her. In the now traditional moment where one character impersonates another after swallowing a draft of the shape-shifting polyjuice potion, Bonham Carter also does a lovely prim turn as buttoned-up Hermione.

There are many other bonuses from director David Yates's fourth outing in charge, among them some beautiful visuals: dementors hanging over Hogwarts like so many wisps of very dirty linen, a dragon's-eye view of London in the gloaming, Voldemort’s army massing in classic cinematic formation on a promontory, Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore appearing to Harry in a respectful knock-off of every other bleached-out God-in-heaven scene ever shot.

It’s the utterest cheese, but still, there are worse messages to drip-feed into the synapses of popcorn-munching battalions

As for the big three, there’s not so much for Emma Watson and Rupert Grint to do in this one, reflected in the lack of publicity stills of them. Their big moment comes when, having killed off another portion of Voldemort’s soul (see video below), they instinctively and madly kiss as gushing waters swirl around them. (Steady with the orgasmic symbolism, gents, this is still a PG.) Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe has had his detractors over the years, but that stint getting naked in Equus in London and New York has done wonders for his confidence and command. Trading computer-generated wand spells and complex algorithmic plot points with Fiennes, he pretty much holds his own. If his romance with Ginny Weasley goes almost for nothing (as does his long feud with the slithery Malfoys), that may be because the actress Bonnie Wright stands about three inches taller than him.

Living as we do in a mostly godless age, it's a bold move for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to serve up a dénouement steeped in cod-Christian samplings. Hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow well, and in Rowling’s final plot the Boy Who Lived must die in order to save the rest of magiciankind. And then he’s resurrected through the power of love. This stuff sounds more hypnotic in the language of the King James Bible, and of course it’s the utterest cheese, but still, there are worse messages to drip-feed into the synapses of popcorn-munching battalions across the globe.

When the final caption appears on the screen to cue up the epilogue - “19 years later” - tittering audiences everywhere will be thinking the same thing: how on earth are they going to age up actors we’ve all known since they were 10? The answer is to dress them as if it’s the Fifties. It begs the larger imponderable of whether we’ll still be watching older versions of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson acting in 19 years’ time. Or will they be eternally trapped in the gilded prison that is Warner Bros' vision of Hogwarts, forever waving their wands to make those gold deposits in the studio vaults grow and grow and grow?

Watch the trailer to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

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