The final chapter for the 'boy who lived'
by Ann Hornaday
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
It is finished.
That Biblical reference is fully intended when considering "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," the final installment of a movie series that surely owes part of its astronomical success to its rich symbolic underpinnings of sacrifice, resurrection and redemption. Feeling at once like an anti-climax and a spot-on send-off, the ultimate Harry Potter movie embodies all the elements that have made the franchise such a sturdy enterprise, from its cream-of-the-crop British cast to its lavish but unfussy illustration of a story that will always be captured best in readers' imaginations.
Picking up precisely where its first installment left off, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) burying his dear friend Dobby, "A Free Elf," as the tombstone describes him, and setting off on yet another grim journey to find the Horcruxes containing tatters of Lord Voldemort's soul and destroying them, the better to weaken and ultimately defeat the force of darkness also known as You Know Who.
Harry's moment at Dobby's grave sets an apt tone for a largely cheerless quest that will take Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) from Shell Cottage to the bowels of Gringotts Bank and finally to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) holds sway as the school's humorless headmaster and where Harry will meet his Calvary at the hands of Voldemort, once again brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes (with that disconcerting blur where a nose should be).
Eight movies into the decade-long series, an outsider might wonder: Where's the joy in "Harry Potter?" Where's the fun? They're there, but couched in weighty millennial struggles between Good and Evil. And by now, such questions are clearly beside the point in a franchise, based on J.K. Rowling's best-selling novels, that has uncannily tapped into the mood of its age, growing up along with a generation that watched the Twin Towers come down on September 11 the same year the first movie came out. There's no denying the primal power of watching a contemporary -- in this case a bookish-looking wizard with the face of a schoolboy and the magical powers of a superhero -- come to terms with death, apocalyptic destruction and the burdensome responsibilities of his own swiftly encroaching maturity.
To their everlasting credit, Warner Brothers and the filmmakers behind the "Harry Potter" movies -- especially screenwriter Steve Kloves -- have taken their stewardship of a generation's ur-myth seriously, infusing the adaptations with the solemnity and meaning that Potter fans expect and deserve. Like its predecessors, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" unfolds with the handsome, high-class production values and somberness that have come to characterize the series, creating a movie of adventure, drama and spectacle that, miraculously, never overreaches. (Although this viewer quibbles with the decision to present the final chapter in 3-D, an add-on that feels more like a distraction than an enhancement.)
If early scenes at the beach and the bank feel like so much perfunctory throat-clearing (albeit with a slyly amusing turn from Helena Bonham Carter impersonating herself at Gringotts), the action takes irresistible hold once Harry and his team reach Hogwarts. It's the castle, after all, that defines the spiritual center of the "Harry Potter" movies and that, with Voldemort amassing his troops nearby, stands in dire danger of being overrun. And it's here that Kloves and director David Yates allow Harry and the audience to say goodbye to so many of the series' beloved supporting characters, from the improbably heroic Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) to a calvacade of indelible witches, wizards and magical apparatchiks, including Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Sybil Trelawny (Emma Thompson) and Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), as well as Albus Dumbledore's bitter brother Aberforth (an impeccably cast Ciaran Hinds).
"Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" features even more surprise appearances by characters past, adding to an appropriately valedictory tone whereby no loose end is left to flutter. While Harry dutifully seeks to destroy Voldemort and save the wizarding world, he even has his version of a "Luke, I'm your father" moment, when through the mists of a device called a Pensieve he discovers the true nature of one of his most reliably hostile adversaries.
In "Deathly Hallows -- Part 1," Watson's plucky Hermione stole the show, winning the day through cunning and understated capability. Here, and again appropriately, the movie belongs to Harry and Harry alone, as he faces down ultimate evil and tries to save his world from carnage and destruction. That may not be entirely possible: The film's set piece is a fiery, furious battle scene wherein Voldemort and his Death-Eating minions lay waste to Hogwarts. But in Harry's world, rebirth is always in the offing, even when it takes place in the pristine-white environs of an otherworldly King's Cross station.
Watching Radcliffe in this scene is to wonder at the taste, perception and sheer luck of finding three actors who could age from 10 to 21 with such poise, grace and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- attractiveness. Who could have predicted that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson would turn out to be good actors? What are the chances they all three would manage to grow up without losing the appeal that first drew viewers in? Indeed, who would have thought that, especially in Watson's case, she would only grow more fetching, more focused and composed, as the years went by?
"Harry Potter" may be about wizards and wands, Dementors and dragons, spells and sorcery, but the real magic lies in its stars. And with its heartening final note of hope and renewal, "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" provides an altogether fitting finale to a series that has prized the fans above all. For that, the "Harry Potter" movies deserve thanks and praise -- genuflection optional.
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.
More 'Harry Potter' coverage:
Read reviews of previous 'Potter' films
Video: 'Potter' cast bids bittersweet farewell in New York
Photos: The movie's world premiere in London
Photos: The movie's New York premiere
At 'Deathly Hallows' premiere, spellbound over 'Potter's' final chapter
Photos: KidsPost Costume Contest
D.C.-area showtimes for Imax and 3D screenings