The End of an Era

Being on the obsessive side, I couldn’t help immersing myself in Harry Potter mania over the past couple of weeks, reading and watching everything I could prior to the release of the new film. Throughout this eleventh-hour cramming, scattered about in interviews and features, I kept finding a thread of stories, personal recollections by fans of a certain age, especially the 18-20 crowd. Over and over again, they spoke of growing up with the Harry Potter films. Suddenly, I had a long-overdue epiphany. Harry Potter is their Star Wars. The Star Wars Saga occupied a very impressionable span of years in my childhood, shaped who I am and aligned my beliefs and view of the world.
When I encounter young people today who either haven’t seen Star Wars, or they think for a moment and say, “Oh yeah, I saw part of it on TV once,” I understandably go apoplectic. (And it isn’t pretty.) I feel somewhat relieved now to realize that one day, some smart-mouth teenager is going to roll his eyes at this generation and say: “Harry Potter? Wasn’t he like a magician or something?” Oh, just you wait.
I don’t know if there’s any possible way I can be objective with this review. Like the books, I love the movies, flaws and all. There have been frustrations along the way, like key scenes from the books that affected me deeply, but were excised from the films, leaving me wondering if I was, in fact, reading the same books as the rest of the world. There have also been some growing pains along the way, especially in terms of the kids’ acting abilities. All have natural talent, yes, but each also went through a period of “Acting,” with a capital A, before getting a more mature handle on their craft.
I’ve watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One twice in the past couple of months, and I even listened to the audio book during a recent cross-country road trip, all in preparation for this, the final cinematic chapter of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Walking into the theater, I knew it wasn’t a question of if I would like it, but how much.
First, I really think the ideal viewing of this film would be in tandem with Part One, which just makes sense. It is very much a continuation of the momentum and emotions of the first part. It even starts with the very moment the last part ended. At one point, Harry refers to events in the first film as occurring “the other night,” which is jarring, considering the months we’ve waited for the film. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Part One and will definitely re-visit it before seeing Part Two a second time. And there will be a second time. And probably more. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two satisfies on many levels and triumphs on many more. It is a splendid and fitting end to the series and a tribute to the cast and crew who achieved the Herculean task of bringing these books to the screen.
When last we left Harry and friends, Voldemort had found the Elder wand, the good guys had escaped the clutches of the Death Eaters (and lost a beloved ally along the way), and only three horcruxes had been located and destroyed. In Part Two, Harry enlists the aid of Griphook the Goblin for a break-in at Gringott’s, before returning to Hogwarts to find the remaining horcruxes and to lead a final showdown with the Dark Lord.
Director David Yates has done an amazing job, really, helming each of the final films, from Order of the Phoenix to this conclusion. The consistency in tone, direction and purpose have been a valuable asset, especially in the most grueling and emotional arc of the final stretch. While some have criticized the pace of the last film, I found it to be the perfect representation of an extremely important part of the Harry Potter epic, and key to setting up the fast-paced action of this installment.
The visual effects of the films have come a long way since Sorcerer’s Stone, but then, it has been ten years. The effects this time around are some of the most flawless I’ve ever seen and certainly didn’t need the 3D conversion to prove that. The Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon, in particular, is probably the most believable computer-generated beast we’ve ever seen on screen, alive and full of personality and physical presence. The wand work throughout the film is also particularly good, and with good reason. You have to believe those things are real and that really powerful spells are bound to have a kick. It all makes for an extremely good-looking film, a fully-realized fantasy world to which future fantasy films will be compared.
In the midst of this visual and virtual masterpiece are three very real young people who have had a film experience like no other. Over the course of eight films, we’ve seen them grow and mature. By some miracle, the films (and filmgoers) lucked out. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have each grown into fine actors. It’s almost like watching a group of drama students showing off what they’ve learned before graduation. The gravity, intelligence and realism they bring to the roles cannot be discounted. The films certainly would never have been the success they are if these actors couldn’t deliver.
Radcliffe, especially, brings an understanding and complexity to his performance. How could he not? Like Harry, he’s been famous the world over for most of his life. Plus, carrying the most lucrative franchise in film history is no small responsibility to put on a boy’s shoulders. That’s the sort of experience and knowledge he brings to the role. In the moments before his surrender to Voldemort, and in their final battle, Radcliffe runs the gamut of emotions, from fear to resignation to exhaustion to anger to enlightenment. His choices are distinct and smart, and he commits 100% to what he’s doing.
The cast of British acting royalty are also largely responsible for grounding the film in reality. Alan Rickman has been stealing scenes since the very beginning, with an arched brow or carefully annunciated word. Here, he finally gets his due, and proves that he’s one of the best actors working today. Snape’s story and the revelation of his true role in Harry’s life is a highlight and bring a much-needed emotional resolution to the film.
Maggie Smith makes an impactful return and proves what we’ve known since the beginning: don’t mess with Minerva. Helena Bonham Carter gets to lighten up a bit, turning in a brief, but nuanced performance as Hermione impersonating Bellatrix. Ciarán Hinds also makes a brief, but memorable appearance as Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth, delivering a short, but chilling challenge to Harry’s devotion to Albus’s memory. Finally, Matthew Lewis (Neville) and Evanna Lynch (Luna) each round out their character story arcs admirably. I was especially happy to see Neville and Luna stand up for themselves and get some recognition for their contributions. As much as I’d like to think that I’d be Harry Potter in this story, I’m much more of a Luna or Neville. Or nameless extra #3, under the rubble over there.
My first complaint, if you can even call it that, is with the jumps in logic the film takes. It’s a kind of shorthand that Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have employed since Order of the Phoenix, wherein they leave important exposition and plot points out of the films, counting on viewers’ knowledge of the books to fill in the gaps. Readers know what the mirror shard is, of course, but it’s introduced into the film series with no explanation. Harry just suddenly has it. The subject of Gellert Grindelwald is brought up in Part One, but doesn’t have a pay-off in Part Two, although Aberforth refers to the final outcome of that thread in non-specific terms. The script also assumes that the audience knows the horcrux in Bellatrix’s vault is Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, but only introduce it as a horcrux because Harry can sense that it is, not because he’s looking for objects belonging to the house founders. Little leaps like that, which would only have taken a line or two of dialogue to clear up, prevent the films from truly standing on their own.
Secondly, and speaking as the guy who would probably be nameless extra #3 under the rubble over there, the breakneck pacing of the battle and conclusion leave little time for grieving the loss of life, which lends a slight feeling of “Yay! The cool kids survived!” to the proceedings. It’s a difficult balance to strike, I know, because you want a celebratory mood at the end, and yet, so much has been lost. Ultimately, I just wanted a slightly different balance there.
At long last, the end of an era is upon us. No more waiting for the next book. No more waiting for the next film. As such, it’s a bittersweet feeling, and fans will feel both the sense of elation and loss while watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two. That these films have been made, with largely the same cast, at a consistently high quality, spanning ten years, is nothing short of miraculous. Clearly, some magic or charm must have been at work here. And it’s that feeling of wonder, satisfaction and completeness that will make these films classics for years to come. Or at least until the next generation’s epic comes along.
P.S.. While I had secretly hoped for even a subtle revelation of Dumbledore’s homosexuality in the film, none appeared. So, I will take the brief prism-like rainbow that appears around his head at one point as his coming-out moment. Of course, that might have just been a smudge on my 3D glasses. Still, I’ll take it.

%d bloggers like this: