Monday, July 18, 2011

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" Review

"It all ends." So reads the succinct tagline for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Capping a decade and eight blockbuster adaptations, Warner Bros. and director David Yates have finally put the franchise to bed. This is Potter's final hour, but is it also his finest?

Depends on who you ask. It's a criticism J.K. Rowling superfans may never understand since the Potter films are tailored to them, but the franchise is neigh impenetrable to the layman. Creative sovereignty is secondary to providing a faithful if mechanical visual companion to the source. Consequently, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 isn't even half a story. There's no beginning or middle — the entirety of the two plus hour runtime is one drawn-out ending.

Often that's an exciting feeling. Deathly Hallows' upbeat action sequences outpace many of its predecessors' — a magical bank heist and a Peter-Jackson-sized skirmish at Hogwarts Castle broaden the scope of the series. Others disappoint. What should be the climactic culmination of a 20-hour epic arrives without the exhilarating catharsis its audience deserves. Standing at 10 paces, Harry and his nemesis cross wands, sans emotional stakes. The archrivals spar simply because they're destined to, and the outcome will surprise no one.

Sandwiched between action and more action are dense expository scenes. When we last left Harry, he was hunting horcruxes ("Pieces of Voldemort's soul," he helpfully reminds us). With three of the elusive artifacts still left to unearth, he, Ron, and Hermione have plenty of scrounging to do before their much-advertised and inevitably underwhelming confrontation with the dark lord. The way that series screenwriter Steve Kloves artlessly espouses these crucial bits of info is telling — he could care less whether we follow him because he's following a blueprint.

Still, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is superior to its predecessor if only because it contains the bulk of the book's action and the characters' overdue closure. There is likewise little fluff, especially compared to the middling middle Potter flicks — but at least Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire didn't ask anyone to cough up extra to see the ending.

Dividing Deathly Hallows into two films was a brilliant marketing strategy, but one bereft of creative merit. All of the Potter films suffer to an extent from their unwillingness to embrace a fundamentally different storytelling medium, hoping instead to appease fans by cramming in as much exacting detail as will fit. And that's fine if you view the two billion dollar movie franchise as a visual supplement to the novels, but their standalone worth is negligible.

Hollywood's Potters do a good job of making flesh Rowling's beloved characters and their ever-evolving universe. Removed from the cultural phenomenon of her writing however, they are shallow, mediocre fantasy films cluttered with unnecessary detail. Some would utter an unforgivable curse at this suggestion, but Harry Potter would have made a better trilogy — there, I said it. I just hope you witches and wizards appreciate the irony of burning a Muggle like me at the stake.

Much of the positivity toward Harry Potter can be traced directly back to J.K. Rowling's writing from the generation that grew up reading it. None of the adaptations are bad enough to undo the goodwill she accumulated, but none of them stands independently either. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 stumbles with the right idea — to send the franchise out with a bang — and it does rank among the more enjoyable installments for sheer leanness. Whether or not it's Potter's finest hour is irrelevant; when it all ends, the films are only secondary.


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