This stately sendoff for the Harry Potter franchise alternates between the solemn and the spectacular, but sometimes seems reluctant about milking the maximum amount of melodrama from the story’s emotionally meaningful moments. It should more than satisfy the faithful, but may not move them to cheers or tears.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up precisely where Part 1 ended. The irredeemably evil wizard Voldemort, played with chilling perfection by a reptilian Ralph Fiennes, has stolen Dumbledore’s wand from the former Hogwarts headmaster’s tomb. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and fellow students Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are still on their quest to find and destroy segments of Voldemort’s divided soul called horcruxes. And then there’s the matter of dealing with the deathly hallows, three magical objects that make their possessor an invincible “master of death.”
The majority of the movie is devoted to two big set pieces: Harry and company robbing the goblin-run Gringotts bank, and the lengthy this-is-it battle at Hogwarts. The former includes a thrilling roller-coaster-style ride through the bank’s cavernous lower levels, an encounter with a massive dragon and the hazards of dealing with a nasty multiplying spell.
In one of several minor and not-so-minor changes from JK Rowling’s novel, the vault’s room-filling duplicate treasures don’t become so hot they cause painful blisters on the skin. This makes a subsequent scene in which Hermione appears to be dabbing something onto the trio’s hands puzzling, since they haven’t been burned.
More significant alterations by screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has scripted every movie in the series except Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) include moving a momentous showdown between Voldemort and new Hogwarts headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) from the historically meaningful Shrieking Shack to a boathouse. Kloves also creates an extended climactic face-off between Harry and Voldemort that is far more action-hero elaborate than its print equivalent. A big scene involving formerly wimpy Hogwarts student Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) is shifted to slightly later in the movie for more save-the-day impact, and Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has had one of his two longtime sidekicks replaced.
As always, time constraints mean a lot of backstory from the book is missing. We don’t hear nearly enough about the bygone transgressions of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) from his resentful brother Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), and the spirit of Hogwarts co-founder Rowena Ravenclaw’s daughter Helena (Kelly Macdonald) doesn’t get a chance to tell us much about herself. Characters such as Peeves and Nearly Headless Nick are nowhere to be seen, and not just because they’re ghosts.
On the other hand, an added scene that is so obviously appropriate it should have been included in Rowling’s novel features Ron and Hermione revisiting the chamber of secrets last glimpsed in the second Harry Potter book and movie. This happens entirely offstage in the book, where Harry is told about what has happened there afterward.
The battle pitting Voldemort and his Death Eater hordes against Harry’s living and dead friends, family and fellow students is a grim and very dark affair, both figuratively and literally. Granted, nearly all of that siege-and-attack action takes place at night. But be warned that even in 2D, the movie often looks like an insufficiently bright 3D movie.
The film’s main acting asset is Fiennes, who portrays Voldemort as a believably psychotic monster. He delivers the film’s most powerful line, the killing curse “Avada Kedavra”, with an orgasmically triumphant shout that’s like an ecstatic release. Rickman does his usual excellent job as the ambiguously evil Snape. In an early scene with Harry, Warwick Davis effectively underplays his role as the dour and distrustful goblin Griphook, giving the odd-looking character unexpected dramatic credibility. (Davis also plays Hogwarts Professor Flitwick.)
The biggest misfire in the movie occurs when Harry’s girlfriend Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) is being threatened by the dangerously batty Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Coming to Ginny’s rescue, her furious mother goes full Ripley by yelling, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Incredibly, what should be a crowd-pleasingly shocking “B”-word moment manages to fall flat onscreen, where the scene ends far too quickly. Also, a much-anticipated kiss between Ron and Hermione is unsatisfyingly awkward, and does not occur in the more appropriate circumstances portrayed in the novel. And the funniest line in the book — Harry exasperatedly asking a smooching Ron and Hermione “Is this the moment?” while the battle rages — is not heard in the movie.
One thing director David Yates gets exactly right, however, is the book’s strangest chapter. Harry’s encounter with the deceased Dumbledore in an abstract white-limbo version of the King’s Cross train station is simultaneously arty, subtle and moving.
Not the best but by far not the worst of the Potter movies, this final farewell is essential viewing for fans even with its flaws.