Monday, July 18, 2011

FILM: At the Close - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Review)

Eight months after the release of Part 1, the end of a decade-long story on the silver screen about a boy wizard has arrived with the release of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2.

The eighth and final film spun out of J.K. Rowling's incredibly successful Harry Potter book series, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) gaining possession of the Elder Wand, and Harry, Hermione and Ron (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) at Shell Cottage after escaping from Malfoy Manor with the promise of returns to Gringotts and Hogwarts before their journey ends.

Director David Yates (HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1) returns for his fourth go-around in the Harry Potter world to put the finishing touches on the franchise he has put his mark on over the last five years.

The focus of the film continues from Part 1, and the story starts with Harry, Hermione and Ron at Shell Cottage, but soon enough their journey continues to Diagon Alley and Gringotts, then to the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade before gaining access to the halls of Hogwarts for the final leg. However, here in Part 2 the presence of supporting characters increases once Hogwarts becomes the backdrop for the film and several get memorable moments in this last film.

But first for the main cast, the performance of the film belonged to Daniel Radcliffe as the revelation of Harry being one of Voldemort's Horcruxes became evident as the movie went on and the pain each Horcrux destruction was causing Voldemort was mirrored through him. And then the scene after Harry emerges from the Pensieve and learning that his death was inevitable from Severus Snape's (Alan Rickman) memories and having to come to grips with that. Dan's brilliant performance makes it impossible to keep a dry eye during that sequence as Harry accepts his fate, says goodbye to Hermione and sees his dead family one last time before facing Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest.

My personal favorite performance in the film would be that of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). First having to play as if she was Hermione playing Bellatrix, which was done masterfully with just enough humor to make you smile while you were worrying if they were going to get away with the masquerade. And then as Bellatrix at Lord Voldemort's side, almost like an overeager puppy trying to please its master before then going out in her taunting style, as Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) defeated her in the Great Hall.

It was wonderful to see Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) get an opportunity to flex her magic muscle and show why she was such a respected witch and Albus Dumbledore's (Michael Gambon) second-in-command at Hogwarts. The confrontation with Snape where they dueled and she sent him flying out of Hogwarts like a bat was a long time coming and then to follow that up with leading the group of wizards and witches that were putting up protections on Hogwarts really gave us a feeling of how powerful a witch McGonagall is.

A group that did not get a mention in my Part 1 review but now that Part 2 is here need to be addressed is the Malfoys. From Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and his struggle with dealing from the loss of status with Lord Voldemort, having to give up his wand and failing to keep Harry and his friends captured to in Part 2 turning into more towards just surviving the war and doing anything to do that made you feel for the once proud and braggadocios wizard. Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory) since her inclusion in the films in HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE made it clear that while she went along with Lucius and his wizarding ideal, family was what was most important to her. And she proved that once again in Part 2 as she checked on the fallen Harry Potter only with the mind of finding out about her son's well being and then lying to Voldemort as a way to thank Potter. And of course there is the son, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who gives being evil one last try and after once again failing to beat Potter in the Room of Requirement joins his parents in doing what he has to to survive.

With the story returning to Hogwarts, several characters that didn't get much if any time in Part 1 made their presence felt here in Part 2: Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Seamus Finnigan (Devon Murray), Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), Professor Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and if you look close you will see a small cameo for Professor Pomona Sprout (Miriam Margolyes) who hasn't graced the Potter films since Chamber of Secrets.

What was amazing was how the film improved on the Gringotts Bank we had not seen since the first movie 10 years ago. Especially in regards to the cart ride, intensifying it with the speed, twists and dips of a roller coaster much more in line with the description from the books that would cause a person to get motion sickness. And while I do not know if it was the exact same door, I would like to think that it is - and by that I mean the vault door for the Lestrange vault looked to be the same as the one used in the first film for vault 713.

But perhaps the most awe-inducing visuals came during the Battle of Hogwarts, where much of the castle was destroyed in the fight. To see one of the most memorable locations in film history literally get blown up into pieces was just the perfect illustration of the cruelty of wars to things that were once beautiful and full of wonderment. There was also the actual participants of the battle that roughly numbered in the hundreds easily, the scale of the confrontation was really felt and gave a real sense to just how much was on stake that night.

Fans of the Harry Potter series should be seeing HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 in droves (and they have). The only thing those not familiar with the series might need to do before watching this film is to checkout Part 1 because this is definitely a half of a story and there is definitely the assumption that the viewer knows what happened in the first half. Anyone that had complaints about Part 1 being slow will not have an opportunity to say that for Part 2 because from the Gringotts break-in to the Hogwarts battle the story is full of non-stop action that only takes a break when it comes time for the epilogue at the end, which is the perfect fairytale ending for this fantasy story. The John Williams/Chris Columbus era of Potter magic makes a symbolic return at the end when it comes time for Harry, Hermione and Ron to say goodbye to their kids on their way to Hogwarts and for us to say goodbye to the story of Harry Potter.

It is like J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, said at the London World Premiere for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, "Hogwarts will always be there, to welcome you home."

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