Monday, 18 July 2011

Film Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

We all know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the coninuation, of course, of Part 1. We also know it's the finale of an eight movie franchise, which in turn is an adaptation of a seven book series. This makes talking about it rather difficult: do I talk about as an adaption? In relation to the other films? In relation to it's immediate predecessor? Certainly, it's a movie that cannot be talked about as if in a vacuum.

So as we begin we see Harry and co. recovering from their narrow escape at Malfoy house, and the recent death of Dobby. They're still horcrux hunting, and they reckon they've got their eyes on another. Gringott's Bank, however, will be a tough place to get into. They embark on a journey that will see them return to the place that is as much a character in the franchise as Harry, Ron or Hermione: Hogwarts.

After the monotonous and confused Part 1, Part 2 gets off to a far better start. As soon as they find themselves travelling through the underground carts of Gringott's, a real sense of adventure and fantasy bleeds into the movie. This helps restore a sense of wonder to the proceedings and once again restores some of the character to the series that was lost when the decision was made to make the stories more grey and gritty. Certainly, this is the movie that strikes the balance best, allowing the dark tone and fantastical elements to compliment each other nicely.

Not that the magic is anymore than just guns with a special plot convenience function, and they stopped trying to hide this with Part 1. Does make it hard to credit that Voldemort is that powerful or that it has to be Harry who can kill ol' Volde. Reliance on "prophecy" as a driving device for the plot is cheap and cliched, a consequence of lazy writing. Such is the conviction of the series in these things, however, that it is easy enough to forget. The plotting isn't great, but it's also got a core that is strong enough - find magic items, kill bad guy.

It can't decide whether it wants the villains to be overblown and villainous or complex and human. Ralph Fiennes is both charasmatic and oddly vulnerable as Voldemort, but the character is still basically evil for the sake of evil. At one point the new Snape controlled Hogwarts has the students torturing children. Really. Doesn't lend the villains much credibility. The way Slytherin pupils are imprisoned, so as to not to interfere with the upcoming battle, sends a clear message. Keeping in mind that those people were assigned the house, rather than choosing them, it presents a rather uncomfortable view of morality.

Tonally, this movie succeeds. It finds a consistency that Part 1 struggled with, and as such it has a very strong atomsphere. The return to Hogwarts, too, certainly helps. The location has become such an integral part of the series that the threat and the stakes don't feel all that high until the building and the community within are threatened. You can destroy London all you want, but when the non-magicked have no place in the plot, it's hard to care.

It's fast-paced, but once again it's better balanced than Part 1. Scenes feel more natural and are given time to breathe, yet the movie also charges along at a breakneck pace, only occassionally slowing down for a more reflective moment. The main action set piece, nothing less than a full scale battle, is impressive and exciting. Mostly the special effects are brilliant, and there's imagination and spectacle to be found here.

Another thing this movie does, in this long list of "better than Part 1" point I seem to be constructing, is tie up small character moments and resolution in a simple and subtle way. Part 1 has things thrown in and dismissed in moments, but the way this movie underplays many of the character moments is what really makes it a good movie. It's very clever and neat, giving the story a bigger feel without introducing plotlines that aren't really involved. Many of the movie's more emotional moments are similarly quiet, and by doing away with melodrama there is a great weight lent to proceedings. Deaths are not bawled over with slow motion and sad music, but instead they are sombre and powerful.

Ultimately, this movie is a success. It's the best of the HP movie franchise, and better than its book counterpart. Certainly, there's plenty of holes here and its not the best movie you'll see this summer, but it delivers on what it needs to. Enjoyable and commendably restrained in it's more emotional and character moments, this is a good Harry Potter movie and a good fantasy film.

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