Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Harry Potter film franchise has finally come to an end. There aren't any surprises here for anyone familiar with the fantasy genre. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is at least different not just for concluding the entire series, but for being mostly an action movie: the exposition-heavy first act being covered by Part 1. So it's a nice change of pace to see Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley getting right to it rather than waiting for some vague threat to materialize like they usually do. This more proactive approach started in Part 1, but got bogged down by a middle section which was composed mostly of the intrepid trio camping out in the woods as they figured out their next move.

The highlight of the film has to be the raid on Gringotts. How often do you get to see a blind, deathly pale, skinny, and abused dragon claw its way out of a bank in the middle of downtown London? Or maybe it's just the vicarious thrill of seeing a greedy financial institution get completely wrecked? But the image of our trio riding bareback on a mythical beast while flying over a very modern city skyline has a certain whimsy to it.

In comparison, the siege of Hogwarts is less striking, if only because we've already seen similar sieges staged with typical CGI grandiosity in other films. It could have actually been bigger. It was nice to see the stone warriors, giant spiders, and giants wielding battle axes. But where were the werewolves, unicorns, or centaurs? where was Grawp? It's not boring by any means, but nothing sets it apart.

There are a lot of cameos for characters that haven't been seen for some time: Harry's parents, Sirius Black, Professor Sprout, Professor Trelawney, Madam Pomfrey, Cho Chang, Dumbledore's Army etc. The whole movie gets pretty cluttered towards the end. Even important supporting characters like Hagrid, Luna Lovegood, and Professor McGonagall get little screen time. I realize this movie is meant to sum up everything, but someone's going to end up disappointed that their favorite character didn't receive more attention.

I died a little when the movie played to shippers demands and paired Neville Longbottom with Luna. This is one of those all too obvious romantic pairings, which is to say it lacks any imagination. The same is also true with Harry and Hermione. But at least there's a more solid basis from witnessing the way the characters interact both in the book and onscreen.

Speaking of Neville, I expected him to look a lot more battle-hardened when he finally showed up. I like that he's managed to retain his dorkiness throughout the series. But give the man more prominent scars. Muy macho!

Professor Severus Snape continues to be the most interesting character in the series, and a lot of that is due to Alan Rickman. This time we get to see him do more than sneer in contempt. I kind of wish he exhibited his vulnerable side before, but the film is being faithful to the book in that it's only revealed at the very end.

The biggest problem with the movie is all the stuff that occupies the areas between the spectacle. There's always been a certain obligatory quality to Steve Kloves' scripts. Even at this late stage, there's still a fair amount of exposition for the actors to chew through. But I doubt that anyone watching this film cold will be able to grasp certain pertinent details: What's the difference between Horcruxes and Hallows? What exactly drove a wedge between Professor Dumbledore and his brother? Wait, How did Harry become a Horcrux? How did the Elder Wand end up serving Harry? And why couldn't Voldermort kill Harry at any time? I need to read the book again to confirm this, but the film might have oversimplified the explanation for Harry's "resurrection". It's perhaps inevitable, but in reducing the densely plotted story of the books, the films can often feel like a collection of highlights.

The final confrontation between Harry and Voldermort has more visual spectacle than emotional oomph. Lots and lots of sound and fury. But not delivering the satisfying conclusion I believe the audience wants and expects after watching eight massive films. I felt more drained than invigorated by the experience after the credits rolled.

When one considers the many failed attempts to establish a fantasy series in the wake of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter is a remarkable achievement. For example, the Chronicles of Narnia franchise looks like its on life support after an anemic third entry. Film adaptations of Bill Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy or Jeanne DuPrau's Ember series were quickly dropped after their initial films bombed at the box office. Fantasy may now predominate the theater, but getting a franchise of the ground is a lot harder than most think. The Twilight series comes closest in terms of commercial success, but appeals to a different and perhaps less inclusive fanbase. Ditto for the present ititeration of Avengers-oriented superhero movies from Marvel. For all its faults, Harry Potter contains an imaginary universe that few franchises have matched in their execution, embodied by a sizable cast that grew up and/or aged in front of the camera. It might take awhile before we see an equally impressive collection of talent assembled for such a purpose again.