Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Runtime: 130 min
Imagine you have a really close friend whom you met ten years ago. Even though you’ve occasionally lost touch over the years, every reunion has been friendly, effortless and enjoyable. Last time you met up, however, this friend told you with a bittersweet smile that they are moving away. You knew you would eventually have to part ways; not until you’ve hugged and waved at them for the last time, though, does it really sink in – this is it.
So it feels for anyone who has picked up these books at 11 and assimilated both the seven volumes and eight films voraciously – that is no surprise. Yet even for those who were latecomers to the series, or only the filmgoers, or the parents who couldn’t help but read on themselves after a chapter at bedtime, there is still something odd about going to see the final Harry Potter film. If not a marker of the end of your childhood, chances are it is for a friend, sibling… How to weigh the pros and cons of the cinematic finale of a cross-generational, multicultural literary phenomenon, as you could do with your latest Hollywood-formula-abiding, inane Cameron Diaz romcom? It is hard not to adopt a tributary tone, if not for personal reasons then at least for the unique and undeniable contribution the series has made to British film.
The final chapter begins almost literally at the scene Part 1 ended, gaining a momentum of its own from the very start. That is not entirely due to Yates’ skill, though, as in this film the script in his hands must have been any action director’s dream. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are honing in on their aim to destroy all of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Horcruxes: objects within which he has hidden pieces of his soul in order to attain immortality. In the meantime, as Harry learns more of the powerful Deathly Hallows and of Dumbledore’s past, he faces time and again the dilemma of choosing between the right or the easy means to an end. The climactic Hogwarts battle begins surprisingly early on, but because we are following the progress of multiple plot points throughout, it gains an ebb and flow that evenly distributes audience engagement. This is the film where technical and digital prowess, the epic long-shots, and cinematography overall carries the emotional charge of a thunderstorm. Opting for 3D will not fail you.
The supporting actors, too, have given it their all; their usual characters have an added intensity that perhaps stems from this being the last hurrah. The trio’s performances sometimes pale in comparison; there is still no chemistry whatsoever between Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright (Ginny), and little more in the long-awaited Ron/Hermione kiss. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Neville (Matthew Lewis) are two roles that really stand out, drawing both anxiety and laughter from the viewer. However, it is this time undoubtedly Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape that subtly draws and holds our attention whenever he is onscreen. Granted, the final book could practically be retitled Harry Potter and the Absolution of Snape, but Rickman takes that rich material and fulfills its potential to the dot. Hence, the “Snape’s Memory” sequence is very much a climax of its own – certainly in no danger of being overwhelmed by the rising action of the battle surrounding it.
In a way, the scale of most scenes and the urgent pace sometimes renders this film vulnerable to one thing the book isn’t: a binary oversimplification in the form of good triumphing over evil against overwhelming odds. Screenwriter Steve Kloves has opted to exclude characterisation, dialogue or scenes that drive home the gray areas like J.K. Rowling does – the understanding that there are gradations of evil, there are dangerous flaws in good characters, and there is nothing simple about right and wrong. Understandably, though, this film has such forward impetus that a lull in the story, however insightful or character-building, may have been cinematically damaging or impractical in terms of running time.
Overall, there isn’t really anything more to say, and not only because you may have been rendered a bawling, incoherent mess. It is the end of Harry Potter. This film makes it go out with a bang, a smile, a tear. Yates has seen us through the end admirably well, even though he hasn’t always tapped into the rich story in his hands with bold depth. Perhaps it is just as well, as the films have had triumphs of their own on other accounts. Perhaps it is just as well that the books still teem with unused potential and these films are but one interpretation, one tribute, to a story that has lodged itself into the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.