After picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows my friends and I hopped in a cab to Clarke’s Diner for coffee and booths to read non-stop. It was an amazing night reading with my friends getting feedback on our favorite lines and listening to them react to Rowling’s witty and poignant prose in real time. Only stopping for meals, I finished the book the next day and closed a door on a part of my life dedicated to predicting what would happen to Harry and his friends. In a moment of sadness better left private, a wave of comfort came upon me: the film series that initiated me in Potter was still there for me to enjoy.
That sadness descended on me again on Friday around 2:30am seeing Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint on screen together as the beloved trio for the last time. David Yates and the entire production team had done a brilliant job of bringing Rowling’s scenes to life, even improving on them compared to the novel. I took comfort knowing that this film and the whole series would endure alongside the books for new and old fans to enjoy.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the best paced and most powerful Potter film. With the help of splitting the book, we come into Part 2 knowing the stakes, the goal, and feeling the urgency in Harry’s quest. It plays in a normal action movie time frame, which brings a wonderful burst of life to everything on screen. Rowling constructed a beautiful and deep history around each dark magical object, but explaining each would have slowed the film down. Screen writer Steve Kloves and Yates rightly escape this and add logical and more direct story elements that allow Harry to discover each horcrux and track Voldemort’s movements.
The action begins right away with the expertly adapted Gringotts bank heist and return to Hogwarts. The comfort of seeing Hogwarts castle again is quickly shattered by the evil oppressing the students and teachers. The Battle brings Harry Potter down to our level, putting our heroes and the children of Hogwarts in mortal danger. Yates’ camera keeps the realism of war in balance with the magical adventure panning through the battlefield, tracking characters being struck down and the castle crumbling under enemy fire. Seeing characters that made us laugh during lighter times at Hogwarts lying dead packs a punch that had been missing from earlier films.
On a triumphant note, the Battle gave us a chance to see Harry’s friends at their best. Professor Minerva McGonagall is blissfully bad-ass in this film giving me instant confidence in a defense sans Albus Dumbledore. Dame Maggie Smith, always wonderful and fierce, whips her wand with authority in a duel with Alan Rickman’s Snape, sends the Slytherins to the dungeon (something we’ve wanted to do since Sorcerer’s Stone), calls down the guards of Hogwarts, and reminds us of the fun of magic saying with school-girl glee “I’ve always wanted to use that spell!”
Alongside her in awesomeness is Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom. As key to the destruction of Voldemort as Ron or Hermione, Neville is the hope of the resistance forging the masses to follow Harry’s lead, even in death. I would also add Julie Walters in her duel with Belatrix Lestrange. A crowd pleaser in the book, Walters and Helena Bonham Carter make this legendary Potter scene visceral and satisfying. I’ll always remember the wide grin on Walters’ face after Belatrix turns to ash.
The greatest gain in splitting the film comes in the valuable time we get to spend with Snape and Harry in key emotional moments. Alan Rickman plays coolly evil Snape and competes with himself for the worlds slowest sentence. Here in Deathly Hallows we see the true Snape; a man sustained by love to bear the blame for incredible crimes. Rickman kept all of us fooled in his restraint these last 10 years and floored me with his passion and sorrow. As in the book, those last scenes endear us to Snape and Rickman’s performance deserves award consideration come year end.
Daniel Radcliffe gives a complex and resolute leading man performance in Deathly Hallows Part 2. He wonderfully embodies the anguished passages in Rowling’s novel of Harry deciding to give his life for his friends. Radcliffe like the character Harry has grown in skill, yet I think his acting elevates the entire franchise (book and film) in those final scenes. I was inconsolable watching him accept death and talking to his lost loved ones. That emotional wallop comes solely from Radcliffe’s performance and he too should be recognized during awards season.
The final duel between Voldemort and Harry had shades of Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back for me. Both match a dogged and righteous hero with a dirty fighting villain. Voldemort, like Vader, uses his power to throw Harry around the castle, changing the circumstances of the fight whenever Harry gains the advantage. Ralph Fiennes shows the cracks in Voldemort’s scaly exterior and makes that character truly vile. Radcliffe again excels as Harry, no longer running for cover, but standing toe to toe with the Dark Lord. Despite the height difference, Radcliffe brings a confidence and intelligence to the final duel that makes him tower over Fiennes’ Voldemort. I wished that Harry’s dueling monologue could have made it into the film, but that line of, “Come on Tom. Let’s finish this how we started it. Together.” was pretty satisfying.
The epilogue, which felt a bit stale and hokey in the book, really works for the film. They trim the scene to its barest and most useful essentials showing a Harry unencumbered by celebrity and darkness living a normal life. Radcliffe looked the most believable as a dad comforting and advising a younger version of himself off to Hogwarts. The last shot of the trio at peace and together closes the series with the dignity the story and the fans deserve. I’ll miss Harry, but I know these stories and the joy I found in them will stay with me always.