When it was announced that the final Harry Potter book would be split into two parts for two final films, there was a lot of complaining. Cynics around the world saw it as a cash grab, merely a way to extend the series to an additional film and pull in some extra bucks. Harry Potter fans who read the books on the other hand understood immediately the need for this decision. While “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is not the longest book in the series (that honor goes to Order of the Phoenix) it is the one with the greatest number of incidents to visualize as part of the over arching narrative. When seeing the results of the final two films, it is hard to imagine how it could have been condensed to a single three hour film and still be comprehended.
The majority of the film does focus on the battle of Hogwarts, but there are so many adjoining paths that need to be resolved, and yet it still feels like it is doing the minimum possible with some threads of the story. For instance, the information about Aberforth and Ariana is skimmed over quickly, just enough to keep the characters in the story, but with very little background (which may be the justification for the Fantastic Beasts Series of films). On the other hand, it was essential to get Lily and Severus in the story as students at Hogwarts and the time spent in doing so is one of the best moments in the whole series. So Screenwriter Steven Kloves and Director David Yates made some very sound decisions in choosing what to include and how much time to devote to those elements.
There are fans of heist movies that should really appreciate the way in which the jobs get taken care of in these last two films. The Poly Juice Potion does seem to get overdone a bit in the movies, but it is an effective technique and it is used in clever ways here. Helena Bonham Carter gets to be in the movie a bit more than would have otherwise been justified by her part, simply because Hermione is passing herself off as that vile character when the three leads are trying to infiltrate Gringotts. Carter is really terrific playing a character who is so uncomfortable playing the character that Carter actually is. Her shoulders slump like Hermione’s might if she was uncertain,. She hesitates with eye contact the way someone might when testing out an acting role. Rupert Grint does not have to transform himself except by disguising himself with a beard, but he gets the surly facial expression of Bellatrix Lestrange’s vassal, just right. I liked that Harry and Griphook are using one of the Deathly Hallows in pursuing a Horcrux, although I am a little unclear if the curse Harry uses in one of the Unforgivable curses or if it is some other variation.
The special effects in the vault sequence are pretty darn good, although I do miss the amount of practical work that made the mine chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom so much fun. The albino dragon who is nearly blind is a perfect match for my imagination when I first read the book, and the Goblin supervisor who is is entranced, shaking his empty hand as if he has one of the warning bells in it, is a very nice touch, both humorous and disturbing as it plays out. There is plenty of action and excitement in the sequence, but it does not hold back the story, it really does feel like the launching point.
Inevitably, the audience is going to have to fill in the blanks in a few places. When our three protagonists return to Hogsmeade after the raid on the bank, they are greeted with alarms that we don’t quite know are set off by. Seeing how it is a magical place, we can sort of assume that Harry’s mere presence would be enough to get them going. The explanation in the book is more interesting and clearer, but it would require more exposition and the film requirements mean we should be focusing on story rather than minutia. The same sort of choices are made with Aberforth, and with just a couple of slight references in the dungeon of Hogwarts, we move on past what was a whole chapter in the book. Fans of both the books and the films can appreciate the arrival of the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. We remember that you can’t apparat directly into the castle, so when they appear at the door of the great hall at the moment Harry is confronting Snape, we can fill in the blanks perfectly well.
The key emotional turning point in the film is not the confrontation with Voldemort at the climax, it is the sequence that comes before that, when Harry discovers that the man he has resented since his arrival at the school, the man he thought betrayed his beloved headmaster Dumbledore, is in fact a more important connection to his mother and the resolution of the conflict, than any other character in the film. Snape is revealed as the true hero of the story, having endured horrors on an equal level with Harry, but never able to show that to anyone and having to sacrifice himself so that harry can finally understand. It is Harry’s five minutes in the Pensive that clarifies everything and forces Harry to become a man, and not just the boy who lived. When taken together with the intrusion of Snape’s memories in “Order of the Phoenix, we have a very complete picture of Snapes motives and actions. That he has had to stand by while others suffered so that he can allow the trap to be sprung is a pretty good example of the kind of control a wizard would need to justify being called a Headmaster of Hogwarts. That Harry has to eat the words he only moments before threw at Snape, make this a story arc worthy of eight films.
All of the major characters get a few moments to shine in the battle that ensues. The novel makes some of the losses more poignant with details, like the loss of Lupin and Tonks, but the visions we are given do them adequate justice. It is the moments of action that we really get our money’s worth out of here. McGonagal going off on Snape and then setting the guardians of Hogwarts loose makes us revere her even more. Mrs. Wesley battling Bellatrix and surprising her with a completely unexpected spell is a moment of ecstatic release. The best addition however has to be the elevation of Neville Longbottom to the status he always deserved but was denied him as a secondary character. He could easily have been the one who was in Harry’s place, and we discover that if that had happened, he would have been a worthy “chosen one” as well.
The stars of the movie evolved into solid actors over the ten years that they made these pictures. At first, they were cute kids who played the parts well, since they were mostly cast as cute kids. As the series got more serious, so did their chops. Ron as a character matters more in the last three films, he is not just a sidekick. Grint does a good job being a stalwart follower who becomes a leader along the way. Emma Watson grew into her beauty in these films and that she sells us on Hermione’s relationship with Ron, is a testament to her skills as an actor. Daniel Radcliffe had the whole enterprise resting on his shoulders since he was eleven. He often got to have a few humorous moments in the films, but in Deathly Hallows Part 2, those moments are far fewer. Instead we get some great line delivery, like the slam at Snape, or the grasping of Voldemort and flinging himself off the parapet while calling him Tom. The most moving moment of the film is in the Coda, when grown Harry tells his young son that he is named after two headmasters of Hogwarts, and he can proudly say one of them was a Slytherin and the bravest man he ever knew. Radcliffe had his big boy pants on in that scene and he nailed it.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows Part 2” is not just the conclusion of the last book, but also of the series that made a difference in real kids lives. There are still some who only know these characters from the movies, but to millions of children, reading became the wand that could open their imaginations. All of the Young Adult fantasy that dominates the film markets these days on Netflix, Hulu, Prime and similar platforms, all owe a debt of gratitude to J.K. Rowling and her imagination and skill with language. The film makers were smart enough to figure out that they needed to keep the movies as close to those kids imaginations as they could, and they succeeded.