It’s extremely hard to escape a franchise as successful as Harry Potter. By escape, I don’t necessarily mean that the actors want nothing to do with the movies, but there comes a point where as an actor you’d like to do other things and sometimes well-received franchises limit an actor’s ability to do so. For instance, are people like Taylor Lautner and all the younger supporting actors from all the Twilight and Harry Potter movies ever going to have an actual career? The answer, in most cases, is no, probably not.
The series that sucked in the lives of millions of people worldwide has finally reached its conclusion. It’s not even the weekend yet, and the franchise has already pulled in a cool $126 million. Millions of fans dressed as wizards have crowded the midnight halls of local movie theaters for the last time. Some have been die-hard fans of the books (as I am), and some just wanted to see Voldemort bitch-slapped in his creepy snake face. Whichever the case, Warner Brothers turned out a final film that young and old, casual or die-hard fan, could sit back and enjoy.
The film opened exactly where the last one left off. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) had just buried Dobby at Shell Cottage and is preparing his strategy against Voldemort (who is off rifling through Dumbledore’s grave for the Elder Wand). Harry’s mission, left to him by the late Albus Dumbledore, was to hunt down Voldemort’s horcruxes (pieces of his soul left in inanimate objects to anchor him to immortal life) and destroy them. Up until this point, three of the horcruxes have been destroyed – Tom Riddle’s Diary in the Chamber of Secrets, Slytherin’s locket in Deathly Hallows Part One, and Marvolo Gaunt’s ring by Dumbledore. It has been assumed that Voldemort split his soul into seven pieces including himself, which would leave three left to be destroyed – Hufflepuff’s Cup, Nagini the snake, and an unknown object. Harry believes that one of the objects is hidden in the Lestrange family vault in Gringotts, the wizarding bank run by goblins.
We have also learned in the previous film the importance and identity of the Deathly Hallows. The Deathly Hallows were unspeakable gifts given by Death himself to the three Peverell brothers. The first brother was given the Elder Wand, which made whoever owned it unbeatable. The second brother was given the Resurrection Stone, which could temporarily bring back loved ones from the dead. The youngest brother was given a Cloak of Invisibility. Whoever owns all three becomes the Master of Death.
Here at Shell Cottage, Harry is given a choice. In one room is Griphook (Warwick Davis), a goblin who holds the key to breaking into the Gringotts vault to keep destroying Horcruxes. In another room is Ollivander (John Hurt), a wand maker, who holds all the knowledge he needs to retrieve the Elder Wand, the only Deathly Hallow not in his possession. In the end, Harry chooses his selfless mission over power, and gains the necessary knowledge from Griphook to break into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).
After breaking in and destroying the horcrux (Hufflepuff’s cup), Griphook betrays Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) in order to steal the goblin-made sword of Gryffindor. They escape on the back of a dragon and end up in Hogsmeade. With the help of Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth (Ciaran Hinds), they make their way into Hogwarts to find the unknown Horcrux, which they believe is an object belonging to Ravenclaw. Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) suggests that the object is Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem, a type of crown. Harry goes to the Grey Lady, the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw (Kelly Macdonald), and she tells him where the diadem is hidden.
Harry retrieves the diadem but is met by Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his goonies, one of which starts a raging fire. Harry saves Draco from the fire (why anyone would save that ferret-faced bastard is beyond me) and manages to destroy the diadem in the process. Ron and Hermione find their way down to the Chamber of Secrets to find Basilisk fangs (because, conveniently, basilisk venom destroys Horcruxes) and destroy Hufflepuff’s cup. And then, to celebrate, they start making out.
Meanwhile, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters have breached the defenses of the castle and are reigning their terror over the students and teachers. Voldemort, who is now in possession of the Elder Wand, realizes that the wand has not given allegiance to him. Believing that Snape had become owner of the wand during his murder of Dumbledore, Voldemort uses his snake to attack Snape. While Snape is dying, he places his tears in a vial and tells Harry to take them to the Penseive.
Harry does, and much is made clear to him through Snape’s memories. He discovers that Dumbledore was right to trust Snape, that all these years there was one very real reason Snape could not swear allegiance to Voldemort ever again – Snape was passionately in love with Lily, Harry’s mother, who was killed by Voldemort himself. Makes sense why he hated Harry so much, then, since Harry was supposed to have been the spitting image of his father (who looks like a math teacher apparently). He also discovered something much more heartbreaking – that he, Harry, was also a Horcrux, and he must also be destroyed in order for Voldemort to be defeated.
Harry then meets Voldemort in the forest, where Voldemort uses the killing curse on him. Harry is transported to a train station, an interim location between life and death, where he speaks with Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) about all that has happened. Harry is given the choice to move on to death, or to remain in life and finish the job he started, without the piece of Voldemort’s soul within him. So he returns; and with the help of new Hogwarts resident badass, Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), and his snake slicing skills, Voldemort is defeated! Hooray!
I try to have an open mind going into these films. If anyone out there is as into reading as I am, you know how disappointed you can be if the film deviates from the story you love. It’s natural. However, this film was as close as you can get to the line between following the story and making a good film in itself. I was pleasantly surprised that much of the script was lifted from the book itself, including most of Snape’s memories and the scene with Dumbledore at King’s Cross.
The pacing, the music, and acting were all perhaps the best I’ve seen in the franchise. There was so much that could have gone wrong in this, the culmination of this long beloved story, that it was refreshing to see the filmmakers do it right for a change. My one complaint is that this still felt like half of a movie, and there was little to tie in the story from Deathly Hallows Part One. I imagine the two will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray as one big film (taking a page from the consecutive style of Lord of the Rings).
There were several things I was worried wouldn’t translate to film, or wouldn’t be handled properly or glossed over. The first and most important being the heartbreaking story of one Severus Snape. Alan Rickman stole the show on this one. He owned that character. He had known before anyone, before the final few books were even released, what his character’s inner torment was and where his motivations lie. He brilliantly has managed to keep that knowledge a secret in his performance while still making it believable, so the film audience would be just as invested and just as surprised as those who had read the books.
My second worry was that the ending, the imminent downfall of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, would be glossed over and cheesy. However that, too, was given sufficient story-telling time and consideration. Although I didn’t really understand why Harry and Voldemort were flying through the air hugging each other, their duel was action-packed and interesting. There was enough time spent on the Elder Wand for the casual film-watcher to understand why Voldemort’s wand had failed him, although I missed Harry’s “Expelliarmus!”
The third and final worry of mine was their treatment of the epilogue at King’s Cross station, and how they were going to make a group of kids in their late teens and early twenties look like real live grownups. With a little CGI and a little makeup (though none for Emma Watson, apparently), they managed to look….ALMOST right. I thought Draco Malfoy was the worst; he looked like the star of the school play. But it was cutesy, it provided closure, and it was just as weird and awkward as it was in the book.
All in all, I really enjoyed the film. It has that little something for everyone – intrigue, action, drama, and romance. The story is much darker than the others, even in the books, and provides for less comedy which is unfortunate. And with all the important people who died (albeit, without death scenes), it makes for a huge downer at times. But that’s war, and that’s life sometimes.
I give the film 4 bears (it was 4.5, but I deducted the .5 for the lack of Jim Broadbent)!