Oh bloody hell, here we go!" intones our beloved Ron (Rupert Grint) early on in the allegedly-final film of the smashingly-successful Harry Potter film series -- and do we ever go. Unlike the loose ends and wandering weirdness of this two-parter's predecessor, the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 not only wraps up the whole schmeer, but it plays onscreen like the ultimate Harry Potter greatest hits album. Fave scenarios are harrowingly revisited (a visually-brilliant heist of the impenetrable Gringotts Wizarding Bank thrillingly gets things rolling, and flying) and the film is jammed with characters (many reduced to blink-and-you'll-miss-'em cameos and dour one-liners) who've become like family to fans around the world.
I award this film very high marks for giving the people what they want -- and in massive dollops. It's a classic to stand the test of time. I also dock it one point for missing out the mirth, as it were. Obviously screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates cleave as faithfully as possible to J.K. Rowling's brutal, downbeat, high-body-count seventh book (Brits: they're still stuck thinking Tarantino is cool; what are you gonna do?) -- but were it not for Grint's underlying wit, the charmingly Bruce Campbell-like heroics of Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, and a wry moment of magical pride with Dame Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, we'd be left with a film of characters constantly making that (for lack of a better term) strained "magic-gasm" face at each other. And tonally -- like Return of the King and Revenge of the Sith before it -- that's not quite complex enough to satisfy the astute viewer.
By this point, however -- and having spent a decade with these movies, faithfully reviewing each one -- I'm not really appraising one film; I am appraising the climactic capper of an unprecedented narrative phenomenon. As such, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 powerfully delivers. By now, you know the plot: Mega-baddie Lord Voldemort (Ralph "Mile-High Club" Fiennes) flails around looking bald and pasty and noselessly repulsive, issuing hissy-fit voice-overs which sound alarmingly like my talking "Sauron" action figure, proclaiming that all pureblood wizards must join him, while his light-side nemesis Harry Potter must be destroyed. This time the battle (no small affair, accounting for the majority of the movie) comes home to the absurdly-named Hogwarts magic school, where Voldemort's leering, sneering Death Eaters stage an all-out attack against Harry (Daniel Radcliffe getting slightly stubblier but not expanding much on his stock "magic-gasm" faces), Ron (the ever-reliable Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson smartly maturing) -- plus their many earnest classmates (some of whom indeed die; although I didn't notice Colin Creevey anywhere -- must have blinked!) and zany-gone-dour professors (ditto).
If you like those swoopy-zoomy-fiery-boom-boom CG shots (auditorially garnished with an Enya or Lisa Gerrard impersonator), you'll be richly rewarded here (those sequences looked clearest in our early IMAX 3-D screening, with director Yates present -- and probably set yet another new visual standard until The Hobbit comes out). Personally, though, I prefer the film's reflective detours into the ethereal: via Harry's encounters with the spectral Helena Ravenclaw (lovely Helena Macdonald), departed Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon -- even in the flashbacks which should've featured Richard Harris), plus his sorely-missed family. This itself is an achievement: a "kids' movie" in which the hero frequently consults with the dead -- and wisely, tastefully. (Okay, maybe they're all just Obi-Wan stand-ins -- but still.) In any case, be it roaring action or contemplative lilt, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 looks astounding -- and so I am going to congratulate the five billion people who created its countless effects shots, and randomly name four of them (because they work hard and probably never get named): Laura Ingram! Sonny Pye! Hanjoo Jeong! Amélie Guyot! Great work!
As for the MVP of not only this movie but the whole series -- well, it's none of the kids; and meanwhile most of the professors and elders (Warwick Davis, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, the terrific Robbie Coltrane) had their respective Potter movies to shine, and now appear here but briefly. Simply: It's Snape. Alan Rickman is so damned good that somehow he manages to transform that silly-ass Trent Reznor wig and Emo-grown-old shtick into pure gold. We love Professor Snape. (Agreed? You know you do.) Whereas previously Rickman traded primarily in seething bitterness and hilarious malaise, here he crescendoes with two new elements: the agony of backstory (for Snape's sorrow is finally revealed), and the pregnant pause (if there's such a thing as the Shatner Prize for Peculiar Parlance, Rickman easily takes it). Bravo, Mr. Rickman! You have given us a classic character for the ages.
And speaking of ages, I've never known quite where I fit in at Hogwarts -- as the kids are too dewy and the professors too seasoned (pity the Gen-Xer). However (if you'll pardon me a brief indulgence), like many-many-many, I love these books and movies. I know precisely where Rowling lifted most of her ideas (not that it's any secret), and yet after I succumbed and admitted that she's a genius of her specific craft (around the fourth book and first movie), I started grooving to it all. It's a culture I like, and if you like it, I probably like you. Great memories! The first two excellent Chris Columbus movies opened around my birthday -- what a present! I got to chat with cinema scholar Leonard Maltin after the press-screening of Goblet of Fire -- alas, in a big theatre in L.A. which is now reduced to a field of weeds with a chain-link fence around it. I paid to see the gorgeous Half-Blood Prince three times (Bruno Delbonnel, you are a god of the lens). And a friend and I joined the joyful, costumed throngs at midnight at the Borders Books in Hollywood when the Deathly Hallows book was released -- hey, remember Borders? In preferred eateries, wizarding talk becomes common ground with fine new friends. Harry Potter is a very enjoyable culture unto itself, and I'm grateful for it.
So was it worth it? You bet it was worth it. My dreams are brilliant without Harry Potter or Jo Rowling -- but to consider stories this rich and vibrant which, like classics before them, become the stuff of collective dreams? Oh, how very welcome!
Thus does Deathly Hallows: Part 2 explosively and elegantly wrap up both this dream cycle and hit series for Warner Bros. (which raises the standard of the studio movie). In the interest of saluting the studio's rich history -- plus to laugh rather than cry -- I conclude by quoting another popular Warner Bros. character -- a much-admired fellow named Porky, who is afflicted by what we'll call The Pig's Speech:
"Thuh-thuh-thuh-thuh -- thuh-thuh-thuh-thuh -- that's all, folks!"
This review is dedicated to my departed friend (and Potter fiend) Méla, and to the many who love and miss her.
All photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.