Well, this morning I said something I thought I would never say: “I’m off to see the new Harry Potter movie. Bye.” This used to be as likely as my saying, “Hey everyone, I’m going to go pick up guys at the mall.”
Fast forward two and half hours later. I’m exhausted. In the wake of that drained feeling I am writing this review- of the movie, book and theater experience altogether. Then after that I’m probably going to lay down somewhere.
First of all, there were 300 previews. There was the trailer for the new Taylor Lautner vehicle, Abduction, which started out somewhat interesting then turned into a bunch of people punching and shooting each other over a Sleigh Bells song. Sleigh Bells. No, I’m not kidding. Then there was the teaser for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which told us… Gary Oldman is sick? Other than that, not much we don’t already know.
Just when I was wondering if the movie would ever start, it did. It begins, literally, where Part 1 left off before taking us back to Hogwarts.
The interesting thing about this beginning is that the first character we see is Snape, not Harry. Perhaps this is implying that Part 2 is partially his film as well, considering what we will find out. I recently discovered that one of the only people who knew Snape’s true nature was Alan Rickman himself. He had to keep that secret for years. So here he is, playing Snape at the culmination of his character. And he’s doing it well.
However, Snape is near the end of the road for Harry, who is still tracking down those damn Horcruxes. There is the trip to Gringotts first, and I enjoyed the sequence. It was amusing to see Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson playing Hermione, which she does quite well (much like Daniel Radcliffe during the Seven Potters sequence in Part 1). It was also amusing to watch the Lestrange vault turn into a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit from hell.
Of course, I was looking forward to the escape via dragon because of that notorious line I mentioned in Pottered, Chapter Seven.
Or was there?
After this I was presented with the most intense shirt-changing sequence in cinema history (people who have seen this know what I’m talking about) and the plot beelines towards Hogwarts with few distractions. The Albus-Aberforth-Ariana-Grindelwald plotline has been omitted, for example (sample line from Harry: “I don’t care”). I was kind of disappointed about that. We also see little of Voldemort other than his post-massacre trudging through Malfoy Manor. Particularly those bloody, bare feet of his- a morbid detail I have to give the filmmakers credit for.
Before I knew it the movie was at the beginning of the end. Harry, Ron and Hermione have infiltrated Hogwarts. This is what fans have waited for, namely all these characters they love joining ranks then zapping Death Eaters and blowing shit up. Particular attention is given to Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), who has grown up into quite a wisecracking young man who- despite his wardrobe choices- is quite handy with public speaking as well as the Sword of Gryffndor.
However Neville didn’t interest me as much as the staff and Phoenix members over forty: Flitwick (Warwick Davis), McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), etc. These guys are played by character actors who have been around for years. How often do they get the opportunity to be in on action like this? To say the least it’s a treat. I particularly liked watching 77-year-old Smith take on Rickman because they fought like maniacs. It was awesome.
The strange thing is that Part 2 begins taking a lot of liberties with the material. There are some things that are a definite improvement. Actually showing Hermione destroying a Horcrux seemed warranted, and choosing that moment for her first kiss with Ron made more sense. But there were other changes I didn’t care for, perhaps too many to write about here. For one thing, I wasn’t crazy about the build-up to Nagini’s beheading. I was more amused when Neville did it right in front of Voldemort’s face because it seemed to come out of friggin’ nowhere. At first it’s like, “Is that nerd doing a magic trick with a hat? Is that a sword?” Then: “OH NO HE DIDN’T.” The surprise was what made it so great.
There is also much less dialogue during the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort. This works but I’m not the biggest fan of all the flying around and yelling in mid-air. Still not sure how I feel about that. In the book I liked the fact that Harry is psyching out a confused Voldemort with the whole Elder Wand ownership issue, making it clear that Voldemort is beyond help. This isn’t 100% necessary for an action film, which Part 2 undoubtedly is. It’s about the face-off more than the details. The end of the fight culminates with the shot I saw in Part 1‘s trailer a year ago (to the day, in fact), the shot with dead children near the foreground that grabbed my attention. It was the image that started it all for me.
Which brings me to what is more than obvious about The Deathly Hallows in general: the death toll. I’ve never heard so many people crying in a theater since I sat through Titanic. The sight of the dead, in particular Fred Weasley (James Phelps), Lupin (David Thewlis) and Tonks (Natalia Tena) was especially hard to stomach. After Snape’s unceremonious, brutal throat-slashing and his pensieve of misery the sniffling continued.
Of course, if you’ve been following my writings on the Potter series you already know how I feel about Snape. I don’t want to repeat myself, but the film’s revelation is nearly as agonizing. In a subsequent scene Dumbledore tells Harry, “Do not pity the dead, pity the living.” At that point it seems like a tall order.
The end of the film arrives quite suddenly once Voldemort dissipates into a shower of ash. Harry dumps those Deathly Hallows like a boss, save the Cloak of Invisibility. He faces the future with his friends among the rubble. Then there is the title card, “19 Years Later” (I heard someone gag in the audience). It was all right, although very brief. I know that people hate the epilogue but I see it as an indication that life goes on. It could have been worse.
I’ve been thinking about the film quite a bit although it has only been a few hours. Was Part 2 as good as the book? Well, no. Part 1 was, but its successor is its own animal. The main difference is that the book takes its time. The film doesn’t. It’s relentless and quick, which is kind of the point. There is a lot going on, many characters doing things and only so much time to show it all.
What surprised me the most is that I didn’t feel emotionally satisfied as much as rubbed raw once it was over. Shortly after beginning the books I guessed the series was centered on death. It was a prediction I got right. If anything, at this “end of an era” I am finding myself thinking about death and how it comes to us, just us- human beings without magic or spells or any fanfare. What I find myself hoping is that no matter how death will visit me in the future, eventually taking me itself, I will be able to accept it and take it with grace. It’s important to make your peace.
That’s what I’ve taken from the Potter series. It may be sad, but all the more valuable.