Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and Sam Raimi had gone from near-obscurity to three of the most in-demand directors currently working. Katheryn Bigelow became the first female to ever win a Best Director award at the Oscars. M. Night Shyamalan went from a rising star to a running joke. Batman went from a nippled punchline to a box-office juggernaut. Transformers, Chronicles of Narnia, Spider-Man, and Lord of the Rings all had a trilogy apiece. Pirates of the Caribbean had four movies and counting. X-Men swelled into an ongoing franchise, with five movies total so far. Shrek went on to his own series as well, which died out after the fourth film. The franchises for Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Men in Black, Terminator and The Matrix all jumped the shark (or “nuked the fridge”) in spectacular fashion. The franchises for Star Trek and James Bond were both killed, buried, and reborn. Avatar unseated Titanic as the highest-grossing film in history, and revolutionized the use of 3D in cinema. Netflix and Hulu came to prominence, while brick-and-mortar video rental stores began sliding into oblivion.
I could keep going for hours, folks. There’s no shortage of ways in which the world of cinema has changed since November of 2001. Yet through it all, we’ve always had Harry.
Mammoth blockbuster franchises came and went, studios merged and changed management, the WGA went on strike, yet the Harry Potter movies were always there. Always with the same core cast, always with the same aesthetic fans had come to love, and always working to adapt the source material as lovingly and faithfully as possible. In all of history, I don’t think there’s ever been a film series this consistent in quality, casting, box office success, and fan appreciation over seven goddamn movies. People love this franchise every bit as much as they did a decade ago, if not more so… yet all I can muster personally is apathy.
I already went through my feelings about the series last year, and time has not changed them. Fans worldwide may be saying goodbye to a beloved franchise, but I said my goodbyes nearly two years ago to the day. I went to my local book release party, I read through the novel as quickly as I could, I finished to book with a heavy heart (and probably a tear or two), and then I moved on. There was no need for me to see the remaining films because I knew exactly how they’d turn out and what the movies would look like. For all the time, effort, and money that went into them, the movies were only ever pale imitations of the source material that offered precious few surprises for dedicated readers.
Yet here I am, going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, completely of my own accord. I don’t do this out of Harry Potter fandom, but out of respect for the movie franchise’s aforementioned place in pop culture. Also, for all my gripes about the movies’ pointless nature in terms of story, I’ll still admit that the films have all been exceptionally well-made.
This latest and last movie is also quite good, but not nearly as good as the series deserved.
To be clear, everything that was good about the previous movies is still good here. Our three leads are still extraordinary, the special effects and magic still look great, and the production value in general is still marvelous (aside from a couple of obvious green-screen sets). The overbearing dark tone of later installments feels perfectly at home here, while the annoying humor (particularly from Ron) is mercifully kept to the bare minimum. Even better, this film was the only one presented in 3D, and I’m pleasantly surprised to say that all its time in post-conversion visibly paid off.
The big problem here is the same one that’s been plaguing this series from the start: There’s just too much source material for too little movie. On the one hand, the filmmakers do use some clever means of condensing, altering and rearranging the events to present them in a way that’s quick and easy to follow. On the other hand, the series’ tried-and-true method of sticking to Harry and getting rid of everything else just isn’t enough here.
It was enough when the stories were limited to Harry’s adventures in Hogwarts, and also when he went traveling in the last movie, but this story is so much bigger than that. After all, pretty much the entire cast is fighting in a massive battle of magic, not just for their own lives, but also for the fate of the entire world. Yet Harry doesn’t take any direct part in the action until the very end, so this massive and spectacular battle — the climax of the series as a whole — became little more than B-roll footage. What a damn shame.
Still, it’s the supporting cast who really suffers this time. They’ve all earned some degree of emotional attachment from us over the course of these movies, yet barely any of them get their due on-screen. Several of the Hogwarts professors show up just long enough to make a cameo appearance. The only ones who get anything of importance to do on screen are McGonagall and Snape, though I’m sorry to say that Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman both look visibly tired of the franchise by this point. Hagrid’s appearance in the forest — one of the most emotionally charged scenes in the book’s climax — comes off as completely pointless in the context of the film. Lupin’s son only got a single throwaway mention. There’s an awkward shot in the aftermath when we see Luna sit down next to Neville, but they don’t say or do anything.
I’m not saying that all the action and character development needed a third movie, but a longer running time would definitely have helped. This movie clocks in at 130 minutes, and God knows a two-and-a-half hour Harry Potter film wouldn’t have been unprecedented. At the very least, they might have given the floating Warner Bros. logo about 30 seconds less screen time. Seriously, that logo was onscreen for longer than most of the characters that have been around since the first movie. What gives?
Then there’s the matter of the action. This movie had a lot of great action scenes, all of which benefited from artistic liberties taken in the adaptation. The Gringotts bank heist, for example, was awesome. The fight in the Room of Requirement was wonderful. Bellatrix Lestrange’s death was badass. Neville’s moment of greatness was indeed really great. Even what little of the war that I saw looked really good.
Alas, this made the climax look even worse by comparison. Harry’s ultimate fight with Voldemort should have been something truly unforgettable, yet it didn’t feel nearly grand enough to be the culmination of everything in the series so far. The action should have been spectacular, yet it’s outclassed by every other action sequence in the movie. This was Harry’s great chance to prove how far he’d come as a wizard, yet he didn’t do anything that he couldn’t have done back in Goblet of Fire. Voldemort’s defeat should have been cause for great relief and celebration, yet Hogwarts and those inside it all look exactly the same when Harry returns. To sum up, the battle wasn’t great enough and neither was the catharsis. Nice try, Yates and company, but you really dropped the ball here.
Last but not least, there’s the epilogue. I was very glad to see that the time jump had been included and that the characters were all played by their original actors. They’d never been recast before, after all, and recasting them now would have been a huge slap in the face for the cast, crew and fans alike. The makeup job wasn’t entirely convincing, but it certainly wasn’t jarring, either. It was a decently presented finale all in all, yet it still didn’t provide the satisfaction that the occasion called for. There was still something missing. It might have been that no mention was made of Theodore Lupin or any of Bill Weasley’s kids. Maybe it was how Neville’s job at Hogwarts was never mentioned. But personally, I think that what the epilogue really needed was any kind of interaction between the franchise stars. We see Harry, we see Ron, we see Ginny and Hermione, and we even see Draco, but we don’t ever see them talk with any of each other. As such, I don’t think the movie really sold just how these characters — or the world around them, for that matter — had changed and grown two decades after Voldemort’s defeat.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is simply a good movie that should have been a phenomenal one. Still, that’s just my opinion, and I’ve long since made my peace with the fact that nothing I say about the film matters. Those who are going to see the movie already have, and those who weren’t going to see the movie probably never will. Fans are gonna love, and haters are gonna hate. Money will talk (very, very loudly), and bullshit will walk. But I don’t really mind, because I don’t care about this film nearly as much as I care about what’s going to happen next. After all, nature and studio execs both abhor a vacuum.
As of this movie’s DVD release, there will be a giant gaping hole in the pop culture landscape. Hell, that hole will grow twice as large once the Twilight franchise runs its course next year. The Seeker, Eragon and Percy Jackson were all non-starters, and the Chronicles of Narnia series fizzled out, which means that studios will have to find some other book series to fill the gap. Maybe it’ll be Hunger Games? John Carter? Tintin? The Lost Years of Merlin? Ender’s Game? Heck, the way things are going, maybe Artemis Fowl or Pendragon will finally get big-screen adaptations. Maybe all of them will succeed, or maybe none of them will. Maybe the next big thing will be something entirely different. All I know is that the next big thing is coming and I can’t wait to see what it is.
And what of the cast and crew? An entire army of actors, directors, and producers have all played a part in this series, many of whom have been with it since the beginning. They can all write their own tickets at this point, and I’m eager to see what they do with the opportunity. Foremost among them are the child actors — particularly Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson — all of whom have grown up through one hell of a trial by fire. Their careers are only just beginning now, and I sincerely wish them all the best.