Not great, but very good.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was easily in my top 5 movies of last year, contrary to a lot of critics who complained it was too talky and just a set up to the showdown in Part 2. I guess I can agree with that criticism, but it was also a great movie; a very different kind of Potter film. It was, much as I’m loathe to use this phrase, ‘darker’ and rather foreboding in its tone. And after all, without a great setup, the denouement could fall flat. I loved the first part; I was emotionally engaged with the journey of the three leads in a way I hadn’t been with previous Potters. Standout scenes included Ron listening to the radio broadcast listing the families who have died as a result of the Death Eaters attacks (and hoping not to hear his families names among the dead), as well as Harry and Hermione’s little dance, a moment of happiness amongst all the chaos. Those were scenes that made you really feel for the characters, and their dire situation really gave the movie, and the final movie, a real weight and substance.
So naturally that helped this movie considerably. We hit the ground running in Part 2, there’s no time for any set up. If you’re watching it, you know the story so far so we’re jumping right in. And jump right in we do. The movie wastes no time in getting our trio back to Hogwarts for the final battle, and throughout the first hour the tension is nicely built up. The preamble to the battle really did have my heart racing, mainly because having not read the books I had very little idea about how this was going to go down. From the moment that Harry calls out Snape until the attack starts the tension is ratcheted up to extremely high levels, with armies amassing on both sides ready to fight. Shit’s about to go down, yo.
However, it’s actually once the fighting starts that the movie gradually begins to lose it’s way a bit. The movie is so concerned with the Harry, Hermoine and Ron stories that it rushes everything else. Secondary characters are brought on and disposed with in seconds, and criminally some characters aren’t even given a death scene. We just see people mourning over their bodies during a lull in the battle, namely one of the Weasley twins dies (not sure which one), as do both Lupin and Tonks (the married couple). And I felt nothing over their deaths. It was just “Right, they’re dead. Look sad. Move on.” I cried when Dobby died. I actually wept, and he was a badly done CGI character. These characters, despite not really knowing them that well, just seemed like collateral damage in the grand scheme of things. I’m not asking for every character to have a grand death scene, but something would have been nice. Take Haldir in The Two Towers; we don’t know that much about him, just that he’s an elf and a friend of Aragorn’s, yet when he takes an axe to the back you really feel for him, it’s a real sucker punch and ups the emotional stakes of the whole battle at Helms Deep.
And the characters that do get scenes to themselves are rushed and a little unsatisfying. In the press related to this movie much fuss was made about the fight between Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix L’Estrange and the mother Weasley. Yet when it comes down to it, the scene itself is so horribly rushed through that it feels like a missed opportunity. It should be filled with emotion, as she has already lost one child at this stage and Bellatrix is threatening to kill her daughter. As it is, she says the line “not my daughter, you bitch” and then it’s fizz, bang, wallop, a fight that lasts about ten seconds, and then Bellatrix is dead. What should have been an exciting little aside to the main story (as I’m sure it was in the book) becomes a bit of a damp squib, in the hurry to return to the A plot.
The secondary student characters fare a bit better in the action and emotional beats. In particular, Neville (the tall lanky one), a character who’d never really done much up til now, gets a hell of a lot to do in this movie. After seeing the film, and reading a bit more about the books, Neville is apparently the ‘boy who could have been Harry Potter’ so it was nice to see him get some substantial screentime. And he also gets the films biggest laugh just before the fight starts proper – “Yeah? You and whose army?” Come to think of it, he probably gets all the best non-main trio action scenes too. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Luna Lovegood letting out some seriously weird magic though.
However, those are my only real complaints with the last hour of the movie. The battle itself is really very exciting, at least in the long shots and little battles between characters that don’t actually have names. We have trolls, spiders, stone guards, teachers, death eaters and students all dishing out the pain, and I have to commend the filmmakers for making people waving wands at each other seem exciting. I reckon it’s hard to make a fight seem exciting when there’s no actual contact between the combatants, so kudos for that.
Happily, all the story threads finally came together in the end with ongoing mysteries answered. The biggest one, of course, being Severus Snape’s alliance and overall arc. I didn’t expect Snape to be killed and then his true motive to be revealed afterwards, but in retrospect it probably was the best way to do it. I did think that the patronus (the glowy animal thing that shows up sometimes to help Harry) that I’d always assumed had been Harry’s parents somehow was actually Snape’s to be a nice little touch. Although the whole long thing does make Dumbledore out to be a bit of a dick, by not telling Harry that he’d have to die for Voldemort to also die.
And then to the big fight; the climactic showdown; Harry versus ol’ no nose. Bit disappointing. As we’ve seen this sort of fight before; the whole duelling wands thing. Again, post movie I’ve learned that the elder wand Voldemort uses was actually Harry’s and as such would not kill its master, and if I’d of known that while watching the movie I reckon it would have more impact. But as it was I was a little disappointed, but I reckon book fans would have been more than pleased.
And then, the epilogue. I’d heard there was a ‘19 years later’ bit, and heard that the actors would be playing their late 30’s selves, and I was worried that it would look terrible. When it didn’t I was pleasantly surprised. Although I do think that it should have ended with the three standing outside Hogwarts, as kids, reflecting on everything that went down, even if it differed from the book.
Overall, as the finale to a decade long series of films it’s fantastic. As a stand alone movie it’s alright. Perhaps watching it along with the first part would improve it. A big 5 hour epic. Ideally I’d like a LOTR style extended DVD release which might offset some of the problems I’ve stated above (rushed scene etc), but as for a rating…3 and a half stars.
(P.S. Azkaban's still the best)