Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Tuesday July 12th 2011

A couple of weeks back I watched the first seven Harry Potter films back-to-back for a feature I was writing for the Guardian Guide (as one of the commenters points out, ‘Time Out already did it and theirs was funnier’, but I’m proud of it all the same). It stood out as a decidedly frivolous article amongst all the anti-Murdoch diatribes that filled the paper last weekend, but to me it was still a significant achievement. And not just because I got to put my work alongside some beautiful illustrations by Matt Blease:

(That’s just a detail, click through to Matt’s site for more prettiness.)

No, it meant a lot to me because over the past ten years I’ve essentially grown up with these films. I’ve always been roughly the same age as the big-screen Harry at the time of each film’s release (even if he is a good decade older than me within the series’ internal chronology) and as he experimented with adolescent angst and terrible haircuts, so did I. He may have experienced more life-threatening duels than I have over the years and I seemed to discover swearing a little earlier than he did, but we’ve never strayed all that far from one another.

So it was with anxious excitement that I arrived at the Friday night press screening for this, the last (and incidentally, the shortest) film in the Harry Potter saga. ‘It All Ends’ — I knew that much for sure — but the jury was still out on any bang/whimper particulars.

And one scene in particular had me worried…

Two hours and ten minutes later, I emerged from the Empire Leicester Square with my fears thoroughly assuaged: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is fucking great.

As expected, it’s a considerably more action-packed affair than its mostly tent-based predecessor, but that’s not to say that it’s lacking in depth. Far from it in fact. This is the Potter series at its most boldly, brutally affecting and more than once I was reduced to sweet magical tears at the sheer emotional honesty of it all. No mean feat for a franchise that’s usually more comfortable being spectacular than poignant.

Elsewhere there are moments of savage violence, striking beauty and surreal horror that might have felt out of place in earlier, fluffier Potter adventures but here feel perfectly at home: the brilliantly wild details of a franchise bowing out in a blaze of glory.

Of course, like most of its brethren, it’s not perfect. Some of the CG sequences feel markedly sloppy, especially when compared to similar scenes from 2009’s dazzling Half-Blood Prince. Equally, the strain of tying up a decade’s worth of loose ends starts to show as the film gets closer and closer to its final moments. And yeah, the epilogue’s not great.

Even worse is the decision to bring Potter and pals into the third dimension. The post-conversion 3D that so famously wasn’t ready for last year’s Part One still looks decidedly half-baked here, clouding Eduardo Serra’s stunning cinematography in a haze of blurry motion and fuzzy edges. I’m not normally one for the ‘WHAT IS THE POINT OF 3D I DON’T UNDERSTAND RA RA RA’ line of argument, but I can’t help but think I’d have enjoyed the film a lot more in 2D. Oh God, I’m turning into Mark Kermode.

Nonetheless, Deathly Hallows Part Two is every bit as distinctive as its talky forerunner, albeit with the help of more explosions. If it fails to live up to the highest water marks of the series — Half-Blood Prince has a structural wholeness and bold tonal identity unmatched before or since — that’s only because it inevitably falls short of its vast ambitions.

Looking back on a decade of Harry Potter films, it seems impossibly reductive to label the series a ‘franchise’, thereby lumping it in with shit like the Transformers, Saw and Shrek movies. Yes, first and foremost they exist to make a fuckload of money, but across ten years, eight films and four directors, the boy wizard’s cinematic outings have time and time again put stories, characters and emotions before big-budget set pieces, stunt casting or merchandising opportunities.

Deathly Hallows Part Two continues this trend with massive success, and once again ably demonstrates David Yates’ perfect understanding of the Potter story. Sure, it’ll probably do very little to convert lifelong Harry haters, but if they haven’t seen the error of their ways by now then chances are they’re never going to learn.

Oh well, their loss.