*** SPOILERS ABOUND ***
I didn’t read my first HARRY POTTER book until a few months before the first movie came out. I picked up THE SORCERER’S STONE to prepare for the movie and was immediately hooked. I devoured the first four books (which were all out in paperback at the time), and saw the first film on Friday, November 16th, 2001 at 10:30 p.m. at Loews Lincoln Square on the big Loews screen. Thus, the seeds of my Pottermania were sown. Later, I did such crazy things as devoting entire weekends to reading the new books (most notably, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, which I bought at midnight at Barnes & Noble and pretty much read straight through for the next 20 hours or so). I attended every movie on their opening nights, including midnight screenings of THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE and DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1, and would have done the same for PART 2 if I hadn’t gotten sick; as it stands, I saw a mid-afternoon show on opening day, even though I was still reeling from an illness that has knocked me for a loop for the past week (apologies the guy sitting next to me). I’ve spent countless hours discussing, dissecting and debating the finer points of the books and films with other Pottermaniacs. I’ve probably written more Harry Potter-related blog posts than any other single topic, and this past week, I even re-watched the first seven films and live-tweeted the proceedings. And I’m not sure any other franchise has caused me to shed so many tears. Suffice to say, I love me some HARRY POTTER... and I can say without hyperbole that HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 was one of my most anticipated movies of all time, up there with STAR WARS: EPISODE I and LOTR: RETURN OF THE KING.
So, did it live up to the hype? I’d say that it did. It picks up exactly where Part 1 left off and proceeds at a relentless, breakneck pace. There’s always something happening and it is a thrilling ride. It taps into every possible emotion and had me exulting, cringing and outright bawling (complete with full-body heaves) multiple times. It features a solid mix of devotion to the source material (perhaps a bit TOO much, as we will discuss) and thinking outside the box, which has been the forte of the David Yates-helmed installments. It is visually amazing (note that I saw it in 2D and can’t really imagine a post-converted third dimension adding much to the experience; probably best to save a few bucks and see it the way it was filmed). The writing is very good (if at times a bit sloppy, which we will also discuss) and appropriately epic. Performances from every single actor and actress, no matter how important or incidental, are absolutely top-notch across the board. Alexandre Desplat’s score is fantastic, too, often harkening back to some of John Williams’ older themes so as to go full circle. All in all, it is hugely satisfying finale to a decade’s worth of extraordinary filmmaking, which collectively should go down as one of the great cinematic achievements of our time.
That’s the overview. Now I am going to do the same thing I did last year for Part 1, and take a look at some specific scenes & moments that I loved (and even some that I didn’t). Join me if you please....
Gringotts Break-In -- Extremely well-done action sequence, mere minutes into the film. At first I scoffed at the rollercoaster-esque tracks down to the vaults that were probably thrown in specifically for 3D viewing, but then I remembered that we got a brief glimpse of that mine cart in SORCERER’S STONE, so why not take it to the next level. Everything else, though, is pitch-perfect, from Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as Hermione-as-Bellatrix, to the multiplying objects in the vault, and especially the dragon. Holy shit, that was a good-looking dragon -- a world better than the dragons in GOBLET OF FIRE. You can feel every bit of its pain, and its epic escape and flight are nothing short of majestic. Warwick Davis also kicks ass as Griphook.
Aberforth -- The HARRY POTTER series has featured a veritable who’s who of some of the greatest British actors of our generation, and in the finale, they found a role for one of my favorite actors of any nationality: CIARAN HINDS! He is awesome as Aberforth Dumbledore -- yet another triumph of casting, which has been this series’ forte. I don’t know what kind of recognition they give to casting directors, but the saga needs to get a special achievement award or something. I will, however, note that I would have liked them to delve a bit more into Albus Dumbledore’s history with Aberforth, his sister, Grindelwald, etc., as per the book. I thought they might start this movie with that backstory, a la RETURN OF THE KING which started with Gollum’s origin... but no. Granted, it’s not ESSENTIAL to the plot, but it would have been cool to see, especially since they briefly touched upon it.
McGonagall Rules! -- Of all the supporting characters we’ve come to know and love, the one who really got a chance to shine in the finale is none other than Professor Minerva McGonagall, played to perfection by the great Maggie Smith. Her confrontation and duel with Snape in the Great Hall... her dispatching of Slytherin House... taking charge of the battle preparations... bringing to life the Hogwarts statue guards, and her hilarious, tension-breaking line, “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!” Amazing moments for an amazing character.
The Battle of Hogwarts -- As awesome and epic and horrific as the Battle of Hogwarts is, my biggest problem with the movie is that the battle is just not epic ENOUGH. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Yates & Co. really dropped the ball with this aspect of the film. Now, I realize that the films (like the books) have consistently chosen to focus on Harry and his actions whenever possible. And usually, that makes sense. But I see no reason why they couldn’t have given us a RETURN OF THE JEDI-style finale, interspersing scenes of Harry, Ron & Hermione trying to track down the last Horcruxes with scenes of the battle in progress around them. We’ve come a long way with a lot of these secondary characters, and it would have been cool to see them in action for more than a brief shot here and there. Or even worse, a stark shot of them lying dead on the ground. Granted, those shots pack great emotional punch -- Lavender Brown with her throat ripped out by Greyback, yikes -- but dammit, I want to see Fred, Lupin, Tonks, etc., go out in blazes of glory. This was Chris Columbus-level slavishness to the book, and I think it prevented the battle from being as epic as it could have been. That being said, when the battle does come front & center, it is awesome and devastating. The build-up is great, too, with the professors casting shield charms over the castle (only to be obliterated by the Death Eaters later). Love that they pretty much bring back EVERY secondary character from the previous films, ranging from Professors Trelawney and Slughorn and Flitwick (double-duty for Warwick Davis!) to Seamus and Dean and Colin and Cho Chang (who shares a couple of glances with Harry as if to say, “No hard feelings,” which is a nice touch). Even Filch gets a couple of fun moments (his attempt to clean the mess after the battle is fantastic). I also really like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN’s Kelly Macdonald as Helena Ravenclaw -- yet another casting coup.
The Prince’s Tale -- Oh. My. God. This was my favorite chapter in the book and holy shit, did they do it justice on the big screen. First of all, can we agree that Severus Snape, as performed by Alan Rickman, is one of the all-time great characters in film or literature? Perhaps the most perfect casting in a saga full of perfect casting. Equally perfect is the way the films have handled his character arc, culminating with this transcendent sequence in which Harry delves into Snape’s memories and finally learns whose side he has been on and why. Utterly tragic, beautiful, magical, emotional... I was seriously a blubbering wreck from the moment Voldemort strikes Snape down, and especially once Harry comes in and Snape says, “Look at me... you have your mother’s eyes.” Absolutely brilliant. I’d go as far as to say that this may be the single most brilliant sequence in the entire series. I love it so much.
The Kiss -- Not sure what is better: Ron & Hermione finally locking lips, or their little incredulous giggle afterward. Brilliant moment. Very nice touch actually showing their journey into the Chamber of Secrets, too. In fact, I think their film kiss actually works better than in the book. (Does anybody really miss the S.P.E.W. / house elf stuff, by the way? Best omission from any of the books, by far.)
Harry’s Death -- Another scene I was really looking forward to. As I re-watched all the movies this past week, I got verklempt literally every time Harry saw/communicated with his parents. So I knew that I was probably going to lose it when Harry is visited by the spirits of James, Lily, Sirius and Lupin just before he confronts Voldemort. And lose it, I did. “Stay with me?” “Always.” God, I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. The death scene itself was well done, too. I particularly like (and also got choked up by) the reveal of Hagrid, captured by the bad guys. Powerful scene. And incidentally, how awesome is Ralph Fiennes in this movie? Voldemort finally has a chance to come front & center and Fiennes eats it up -- a brilliant performance, except maybe for his strangely goofy laugh after announcing that “Harry Potter is dead,” not to mention the awkward hug with Draco... that was a little weird. But chalk that up to Fiennes portraying Voldy as a gleefully gloating sonofabitch. I also didn’t notice his NYYYEEEEAHHH’s as much -- I think there were fewer of them in the movie than there were in the trailer.
King’s Cross -- A weird scene in the book, and a weird scene in the movie, but packs an emotional punch nonetheless because it brings back Michael Gambon as Dumbledore for one last hurrah. “Is this real, or is it all in my head?” “Well of course it’s in your head... but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.” Good stuff. And Voldemort’s embryo soul is creepy as fuck.
Neville Kicks Ass -- After LOTR: THE TWO TOWERS, my rally cry for the next year was “SAM IS GOING TO KICK SO MUCH ASS IN RETURN OF THE KING!” And he did. Well, after HP7.1, which contained one brief scene in which Neville mouthed off to the Death Eaters on the Hogwarts Express, my rally cry became, “NEVILLE IS GOING TO KICK SO MUCH ASS IN PART 2!” And he most certainly does. From the moment he shows up to lead Harry, Ron & Hermione back into Hogwarts, with his bruised face and ready-to-fight attitude, you knew he is a changed man. I love when, in the heat of battle, he declares that he “has the hots” for Luna (don’t we all?). And of course, his climactic slaying of Nagini. (Side note: See, George Lucas, THIS is how you do the buffoon-turned-hero character arc! Could’ve had Jar-Jar do something heroic in EPISODE III and it would’ve made a world of difference!) Maaaaaybe could have done without his cheesy and overlong BRAVEHEART speech in front of Voldemort, but that is a minor quibble. I also kind of prefer the way Neville kills Nagini in the book: right in front of Voldemort’s face, in the blink of an eye, as opposed to the more drawn-out, horror-movie sequence in the movie. But it works well both ways.
Molly Weasley’s Moment -- So glad they kept this moment intact, because it was perfect in the book and equally perfect on screen. “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” Sigourney Weaver in ALIENS would be proud!
Harry vs. Voldemort Smackdown -- Not sure how I feel about what they did here. Obviously they expanded the action to have Harry & Voldy dueling and flying around and crashing through the Hogwarts grounds, with the two of them ultimately squaring off in a deserted courtyard, while the Battle of Hogwarts continues to rage elsewhere. In the book, they face off in front of everyone, which I think I like better. And I DEFINITELY like Voldemort’s book death better, when his body simply falls to the ground and the crowd cheers. This was meant to show that he is, after all, only human. In the movie, his body sort of disintegrates into black ticker tape, which completely loses sight of the message that Rowling was trying to convey. Still, the film version is suitably epic and visually awesome and exultant, so I can’t complain. (I was also later reminded that in the book, Harry uses the Elder Wand to repair his original wand, and then sends the Elder Wand into hiding, presumably forever. In the movie, he does not repair his original wand, which is an unfortunate oversight, and then breaks the Elder Wand and throws it away. The book wins this round for sure.)
Nineteen Years Later -- Wasn’t a huge fan of the epilogue in the book, and the movie version doesn’t do much to change that, though it is funny to see Ron with a big ol’ butterbeer gut. (Hehe, I also just reminded myself of when Harry, Ron & Hermione return to Hogwarts, and Ginny rushes to greet Harry and ignores her brother even though she hasn’t seen him in six months. Funny moment.)
A couple more nitpicks that are kind of significant and may annoy me more as time goes on, especially if there are no deleted scenes that correct them: Um, hello, what the fuck happened to Wormtail? In the book, he dies at Malfoy Manor, strangled by the silver hand given to him by Voldemort after he repays his life debt to Harry. This was not mentioned in HP7.1, and I’m pretty sure we only see Wormtail get knocked out when Harry & Ron escape. And he does not appear in HP7.2 at all... so either there is a critical deleted scene somewhere, or this is a pretty massive oversight!
Secondly... Lupin & Tonks had a son. We who read the books know this. In the films, there is a brief moment at the beginning of HP7.1 where Tonks is about to announce the news to the group, but Moody cuts her off. If you don’t already know what she’s about to say, you’d have no idea -- so when Harry mentions their son to the vision of Lupin before he faces Voldemort, it’d be like, “...say what?” And it’d definitely take away some of the emotional jolt from the sight of Lupin & Tonks’ dead bodies lying next to each other with their hands nearly touching. Severe case of sloppy writing here. (And once again, Tonks remains the most grievously-underused character in the series. Did we see her in action at all in the final battle? Can’t remember, but I’m guessing not.)
Fortunately, these and most other nitpicks came to me after the fact. While watching the movie, it was a tremendous, thrilling, hugely emotional and fulfilling experience. Is HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 the best Potter film? No... that title still belongs to ORDER OF THE PHOENIX on my list, closely followed by PRISONER OF AZKABAN. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d say that HP7.2 is better than HP7.1. But it is damn good and I loved it and can’t wait to see it again. (Though now that I think about it, perhaps if you watch Parts 1 & 2 as one massive 4 1/2 hour extravaganza, it suddenly becomes the best Potter film? We’ll find out in a few months when I can watch them back-to-back on Blu-Ray; for now, I digress.)
I’m sure that in the course of this rambling, gushing mess of a “review,” I’ve left out plenty of other details/moments/bits of awesomeness worth discussing, so by all means let’s discuss them below. Other than that, not sure there’s much else for me to say except...