It all began on a quiet, foggy evening in front of Number 4, Privet Drive. A curious-looking man with a long, scraggly beard and half-moon spectacles stepped before the scene. His hat, pointy. His demeanor, warm and kind. 10 years ago, this was the image that brought the enchanting world of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to the big screen. For most of us, now in our late teens or early ‘20s, there could not have been a more momentous occasion than this. Days and weeks spent curled up, devouring page after page of spells, charms, trolls and Quidditch were about to pay off as those fantastical images were finally realized on film. Now, after countless midnight showings, over six billion dollars in gross, worldwide revenue and two Albus Dumbledores, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” marks the end to this most expansive and most dynamic of film franchises.
Over the past decade, no other film series has explored the kind of range that Harry Potter has. From the more family friendly Chris Columbus starters to the darker, almost gothic stylings of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Prisoner of Azkaban,” the Harry Potter franchise has been as much an exercise in making entertaining blockbusters as it has been an impressive showcase for cinematic experimentation. With “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets,” the movies were lighter, still draped in the innocent cover of magical infatuation and child-like wonder.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron’s (Rupert Grint) voices had yet to change, Voldemort had yet to make his menacing return while the soaring score of John Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” brought a level of soothing comfort perfectly tailored to the whimsical world of Hogwarts. But, at some point, those rosy-cheeked youths who stood wide-eyed on Platform 9 ¾ had to grow up. As the directors have switched and the actors have grown (except for vertically-challenged Radcliffe), the tone and look of the films has become increasingly somber, gloomy and with David Yates’ final installment, viciously violent.
“The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is not the children’s fare that the series began with. It’s more mature in its technique, more epic in its special effects and more savage and bloody than any of its predecessors. Instead of the Dumbledore’s compassionate gaze, “Deathly Hallows” opens with an unsettling portrait. A despondent Snape, clad in his trademark, morbidly black attire, looks over the desolate setting of Hogwarts castle. The sunny mirth of the students that once populated the hallowed halls has been drained, replaced by lines of colorless automatons marching in step like Nazi stormtroopers. Cut to a crestfallen Harry, staring at the grave of the recently deceased house-elf Dobby — and these are some of the lighter moments of the film.
But, this grim turn should be no surprise. For those who’ve read the final book, you know that the tale is tragic. The plot doesn’t need to be rehashed here. J.K. Rowling’s concluding opus reached near massacre heights in terms of body count and the resulting emotional exhaustion. Harry has the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders as he, along with his intrepid partners Hermione and Ron, continues to search for the Horcruxes needed so he can ultimately destroy the indomitable Voldemort. The plot is labyrinthine, serpentine in the spirit of the Parselmouth villain and is surely immensely confusing for those who have not read the books (especially the last). The introduction of the Deathly Hallows, three relics that make one the Master of Death, would be baffling for non-fans alone, but the intricacies of Hogwarts lore and the lightning-fast speed of the second half make this movie easily the most inaccessible for casual viewers. But, for fans, the breakneck pace and richness of detail give the film a focus and maturity unseen since “Prisoner of Azkaban.”
For much of the near two-hour-long film, the camera moves at a frenetic rate, capturing the chaos and disorder of the Battle of Hogwarts. The effects are at their best, as towering mountain trolls and animated stone knights duel in a scene reminiscent of “Lord of the Ring’s” epic Battle of Helm’s Deep. The actors, particularly Alan Rickman as Snape and Daniel Radcliffe, leave an indelible emotional imprint as they face their cursed mortality. Save for a few moments of questionable content (at one point, Voldemort and Harry’s faces meld ― it’s weird to say the least) and a laughably awful epilogue, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a technical and touching achievement.
Having said this, it’s not a perfect film. The movie’s rapid momentum is exhilarating but, at times, can leave one breathless and yearning for a break to take it all in. In the blink of an eye (albeit, a somewhat slow blink), Voldemort is dead. Hogwarts is in ruins and the triumphant trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione are left, like the audience, satisfied to be finished but puzzled, facing a unknown future.