On July 15, 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 released in theaters to a very magical (and, honestly, quite astounding) reaction from fans and critics alike. The film went on to become the highest earning Potter film with $381 million in the United States and $1.342 billion worldwide (though it sold 12 million fewer tickets domestically than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, according to Box Office Mojo), and earned a stunning 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest score of the franchise, even surpassing the superior (in my opinion) 90% earned by Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
I saw the film at midnight alongside a bunch of fellow Potter nerds and walked away happy. Not overwhelmed or overtly ecstatic, but … happy. As directed by David Yates, Deathly Hallows does a bang up job ending the decade-long franchise on an exciting high note. Storylines sufficiently wrap up, beloved characters receive proper sendoffs, and the long-awaited duel between Harry Potter — the Boy Who Lived — and Ralph Fiennes’ hilariously theatrical He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named actually surpasses expectations.
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Even so, the film has its shortcomings. Chief among them, the complete disregard for several of the novel’s key plot points, such as Dumbledore’s entire backstory, Harry’s invisibility cloak, and anything to do with giants. Readers will understand how vague point A connects to vague point B, but casual audiences may scratch their heads trying to comprehend the how’s and why’s of the Elder Wand; and the overall importance of those damned Horcruxes. Additional information is certainly available at your nearest library for those seeking deeper Potter knowledge once the credits roll, but really the gist of Harry’s final predicament boils down to: yadda yadda kill Voldemort.
And really, at this point, who cares? While the wicked battle against Darth Voldemort’s army makes up the film’s skeletal structure, DHP2’s main focus lies with the dozens of characters — essential or otherwise — zipping about Hogwarts’ rotating staircases, classrooms, and secret tunnels.
Is it any wonder audiences cheered the loudest when Ron and Hermione finally locked lips?
Where underwhelming finales such as Return of the Jedi, Spider-Man 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End lost sight of their characters, or dwarfed them amidst overwhelming spectacle, DHP2 fully embraces its lead heroes and villains and actually places the Battle of Hogwarts in the background in order to keep the focus on important character beats such as Severus Snape’s decidedly subdued confrontation with Voldemort.
Speaking of ole Voldey, Yates spends a great deal of time focusing on the villain’s continually fractured persona. In previous films, he was merely a menace to be thwarted; and a tad one-dimensional to be honest. In DHP2, he’s cruel, broken, angry, bitter, alone, and curiously awkward. A sequence early on features Voldemort appearing shocked at his aptitude for horrific violence.
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Each time a Horcrux is destroyed, Yates cuts to Voldemort reacting in agony. Despite the severity of his situation, the character refuses to relent and becomes wildly unpredictable as a result. The bit where Voldemort watches in stunned silence as Harry (who was presumed dead) leaps from Hagrid’s arms and then explodes into a fit of rage is genuinely frightening, but also in line with his villainous nature.
In J.K. Rowling’s stirring novel, the big standoff between Harry and Voldemort amounted to little more than a shouting match before a relatively brief skirmish. Here, Yates draws out the tension with a mano y mano fight-to-the-death during which Voldemort literally tries to kill Harry via magic, physical abuse, and torture. I love how, despite the circumstances, Voldemort rejects Harry’s very important details regarding the Elder Wand — even in the end, Voldemort is too stubborn, arrogant, and prideful to accept help from an “inferior” foe.
These small character moments are really what sell DHP2. No one operates outside of their bubble. Ron is still Ron, albeit with a sudden knack for Parseltongue. Hermione is still Hermione, albeit with a sudden knack for snogging Ron. Harry is still Harry, albeit with a tad more heroism than before. Even Dumbledore’s abstract appearance feels perfectly in step with the batty-but-brilliant wizard we grew to love.
The big “fire scene” is equally impressive in the way it integrates Draco Malfoy’s pathetic character into the action, and I love that the story provides any number of opportunities for the little worm to redeem his pathetic person, and he outright refuses all of them.
One of the best scenes of the film entire has little to do with magical FX. Harry, knowing he must die in order to defeat Voldemort, approaches Ron and Hermione and offers a very fond farewell. It’s a very touching and deeply sad moment that only works because we’ve spent so much time with this trio of heroes.
There are other brief character beats sprinkled throughout the production — Lupin and Tonks reaching for each other just before the final battle begins, Fred and George having a quiet conversation, Ma Weasley’s quick (and kinda random) disposal of Bellatrix Lestrange, and anything to do with Professor McGonagall, for example — and while some are a bit too quick to process (seriously, is there an extended cut or no?) they all serve as a reminder of the exciting cinematic journey that began way back in December of 2001.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 satisfies as a character-driven blockbuster that effectively closes the book on the Potter saga. No, Yates doesn’t match the pure brilliance of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, but he delivers a minor spectacle with enough heart and soul to cement DHP2 alongside the great modern blockbusters.
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