A brief preface before we get to the review proper: 3D is a horrible, horrible thing. The two or three moments per movie where one grudgingly observes “Okay, that didn’t suck” are outweighed by a litany of exasperating, unnecessary, oppressive annoyances: the near-complete absence of light. The stupid glasses. Everything. Even in the “best” 3D movies the moments that depend on extra dimensionality for effect can be counted on one hand (two for the diabolically fascinating Transformers: Dark of the Moon... I wish I could surgically remove the part of my brain that kind of liked that movie, but such is life, and who among us is perfect, etc etc). I submit that 3D is a net loss to human culture. Its abolition would be a gain. The systematic execution of all movie executives responsible for its ubiquity is unnecessary, but they should know that the only reason I’m sparing them is because I’m a nice guy.
Okay, enough negativity, on to why Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is awesome.
We pick up with an economical recap of where we are in the narrative — a series of shots establishing Dumbledore’s grave, Voldemort’s robbing of said grave for the Elder Wand (because what Voldemort really needs is a more powerful means of killing people), and a few minutes to catch our breath as we return to Harry and company having just buried Dobby. We waste no time discovering from the rescued goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis, having more fun than he has since getting to see Val Kilmer’s wig every day in Willow) that inside Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault in wizard bank Gringotts lies the next Horcrux.
If that seems a torrent of Harry lingo it’s only because that’s how the movie starts off: director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves are like “you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know what was going on, and you didn’t come to the last Harry Potter movie ever [until Warner Bros reboots the series in 2015 for cash] to mess around with setup. Let’s get to the action.”
And so we jump right in: our heroes, using a purloined hair of Bellatrix’s to turn Hermione into Helena Bonham Carter, a funny wig and fake beard for Ron, and Harry’s trustworthy Invisibility Cloak to cover him and Griphook, head to Gringotts on their Horcrux hunt. (I had very much been looking forward to seeing Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson playing Hermione playing Bellatrix, and HBC did not disappoint: she adopts Emma Watson’s posture, facial expressions, and walk to the point where it almost makes more sense to have Emma Watson’s voice coming out of her mouth than her own).
Almost immediately, the Gringotts staff knows something’s wrong, so improvisation becomes necessary. Even then, our heroes are no farther than an inch away from total disaster, culminating in a frantic, very well-mounted scene in the vault with Harry desperately pursuing the Horcrux as everything he touches magically multiplies, nearly crushing he, Ron, and Hermione under a mountain of filthy lucre. They escape on dragonback because, hey, sometimes you need to escape an underground wizarding bank on dragonback.
I have no idea how long all this actually took, but it seemed like that was just the first fifteen minutes of the movie. It could have been the first hour for all I knew or cared. I was completely in the palm of this movie’s hand. If it had one. Anyway. At this point, the entire rest of the movie consists of getting to Hogwarts to find the final Horcruxes, liberating Hogwarts from Voldemort’s control, defending it against Voldemort’s attempts to reacquire it and kill everyone, and ideally destroying the final Horcruxes and killing Voldemort. This could have been an hour of screen time, could have been two. Did not care. It’s all so well done that it could be three more hours and I’d be right there holding my 3D glasses on my face (grrrr) and thoroughly enjoying every second of it.
So, yes, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is wonderful. It’s a perfect end to the series by the first director to truly understand how to make a Harry Potter movie (Alfonso Cuarón, to split hairs, made a very good movie that was more an Alfonso Cuarón movie than a Harry Potter movie). The effects are excellent, and would be in 2D or 3D — seriously, see it in 2D if you’re able to, there are whole scenes that you’d actually be able to see that I couldn’t in 3D — the acting is stellar, with many beloved characters getting their first chance to really shine.
Matthew Lewis’ arc over the course of the series as Neville Longbottom, for instance, is a fascinating one: he goes from being a shy, scared, scatterbrained nerd at the beginning to the leader of La Resistance by the end (and totally still a nerd) and it feels like every bit as organic a progression as it did in the books. But wow dude La Resistance Neville is some seriously good Neville. My usual articulateness fails me. Fans of the book remember Neville gets to use a sword (I won’t get into it for the more casual fans, but yes, toward the end, Neville gets to use a sword) and when he does, I jumped out of my chair and dropped my stupid 3D glasses for a second, because that moment was awesome. Awesome. Neville Longbottom: long may you reign.
Maggie Smith gets to stretch her legs and show what we’d always suspected about McGonagall: if you get her mad, massive and terrifying things happen to you. When Harry saunters back into Hogwarts and announces to Headmaster Snape that he’s taking over, McGonagall steps up and gets into a very short and decisively victorious wizard duel with Snape who, being no stranger to the notion of discretion’s superiority to valor, jumps out the window and gets as far away as possible. She then proceeds to Transfigure all the gigantic stone statues of dudes with swords into moving statues of dudes with swords, in a truly wonderful sequence. She earns her nervous, geek-out giggle that tags that scene; as weird as it is to see McGonagall giggle, she is a nerd. And being able to do magic that cool earns you the right to brag all you want, or geek out at your own awesomeness. Who are any of us to judge McGonagall? Seriously.
One last time: Severus Snape. Alan Rickman. Simply tremendous. To get semi-spoiler-y, the ultimate fate of Snape is a very emotional moment, when his true loyalties are revealed (and his becomes the most heartbreaking unrequited love in fiction), and Rickman plays the scene to the hilt without overdoing it, because he’s Alan Rickman, and I defy anyone to present evidence that he’s ever been anything but awesome.
The central trio all go out on a very high note. Rupert Grint manages to successfully steer Ron Weasley into a presentable facsimile of adulthood (and, by the way, the movie does a better job than the book of explaining how Ron learned how to speak Parseltongue; sure, that better job consists of actually providing an explanation, but still, it was a funny line, and Emma Watson’s reaction was priceless). Emma Watson has less visibly to do here than she has at times earlier in the series, but her Hermione, after a few rocky moments caused by inexperience and bad or indifferent directors, ends up a very good one. Movie Hermione and Book Hermione will always be as separate as the movies and books themselves, and perhaps the most salient difference, but Emma Watson’s work as Hermione is good.
Finally, because he is the title character after all, Daniel Radcliffe’s evolution from precocious kid to fully accomplished, legitimately excellent adult actor has been a joy to watch. His work in Deathly Hallows Part 2 is some of his best in the series, having attained a level of swagger sufficient that he can trash-talk Voldemort before their final showdown (which is shot as a one-on-one battle without the theatrics and audience as in the book) and even make fun of his accent without it seeming ridiculous. He’s Harry Potter as fully-realized hero, ready for his moment, with unswerving confidence in his ability to defeat Voldemort, and it doesn’t read as cocky at all, just realistic.
It’ll be interesting someday to watch Deathly Hallows 1 and 2 back-to-back once Part 2 comes out on DVD and see how they fit together as one movie, but for now Part 2 is a terrific, satisfying ride. If the epilogue seems a little superfluous (which I did not find it to be in the book), and if Dan Radcliffe looks alarmingly like Jake Gyllenhaal in his age makeup, these are but trifles. It ends as it should, on a note of triumph, the last chapter in a very large part of this last decade’s pop cultural history. For fans especially, Deathly Hallows, both parts, should not be missed. “And judging by how unbelievably much money it was making, not many people were missing it. All was well.”