Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Wands, horcruxes, and legendary Deathly Hallows. If there are, in fact, still people on Earth completely unfamiliar with Harry Potter lore, now is not the time to begin explaining.

A decade after 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe debuted as the titular hero of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, the film franchise – based on the ubiquitous book series that made J.K. Rowling the world’s first billionaire author – is the highest-grossing of all time with more than $6 billion in receipts.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith

So it is fitting that director David Yates pulls out all the stops for the final instalment, in which Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his allies finally bring all-out war to Hogwarts while Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) rush to find and destroy the last of the dark lord’s protective horcruxes to render him vulnerable in time for the final showdown.

Coming on the heels of  Deathly Hallows – Part 1, which eschewed confrontation for plot progression, Part 2 is the most action-packed film of the series, offering dragon chases, magical infernos, and plenty of full-scale battle with huge ogres, animated stone knights, and feral warrior-people.

But a prime attraction is seeing the extensive supporting cast give its last hurrah. Neville Longbottom, the Malfoys, Luna Lovegood, Remus Lupin, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Molly Weasley (with some choice words for Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange), and deputy headmistress Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) all get their time in the limelight, as does the curmudgeonly Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciarán Hinds).

Yet even amid the chaos of running and fighting there is an emphasis on understanding – after all, there are several thousand pages of plot points to wrap up – leading to some quieter moments in which the characters make important connections.

The story of Snape (Alan Rickman) comes full circle, which is fortunate because in his early scenes Rickman almost seems to be parodying his own famously eccentric cadences as he hisses instructions to a Hogwarts assembly.

Harry finally learns everything he has wanted to know about himself, his family, and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who returns for a few brief scenes to offer Harry advice from the other side.

Finding scant time for hijinx or humour – excepting another magical disguise gag that sees Hermione assume the form of Bellatrix to infiltrate Gringotts bank – Deathly Hallows is dangerously self-serious.

It won’t be noticed by the fans who engendered years of Pottermania, watching through the lens of their own experience reading and imagining, but anyone on the outside of this universe will be hard-pressed to get emotional over anything left to happen.

In a sense, Harry Potter was at its most engaging when it was comfortably ensconced in the boarding school framework now long abandoned for ever-higher stakes: Harry the fugitive, an abundance of pseudopolitics and an imminent apocalyptic war are somehow less compelling than the story of a boy not quite at home in the (Muggle) world given another option.

Maybe that’s why the tastefully understated – and thankfully brief – rendition of Rowling’s famous epilogue almost puts a lump in your throat: it makes you want to go right back to the beginning again, to the simplicity and naiveté of a bright-eyed, twelve-year-old Daniel Radcliffe standing on a nonexistent railway platform for the first time.

Offering pyrotechnics and plot points galore, capping a storied film series likely to have launched a dozen careers even as it buttressed or resurrected dozens more, and tying the whole thing up with a bow is a lot to ask of a single movie. The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 may not end the franchise on its highest note, but it succeeds to the point where even skeptics will find something to get wistful about.

Most importantly, millions of fans will see the closing chapters of a favourite story finally realized as movie magic depicts Potter magic for what looks like the last time.