Invoking nostalgia is one of the key goals of the final installment to one of the longest running movie franchises in history. While the earliest Harry Potter film is only ten years old, many of us have watched these young actors grow up and as their characters have gone from children to adults, so have they, and for some younger viewers, so have we. Millions relate to that intense personal connection with the characters which is part of what makes the series so successful. It is also the filmmakers’ ability to bring out the elements of the story that are deeply human.
Unsurprisingly Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the final film in this franchise, ends on an emotionally and triumphantly high note. The final scenes are epic in visual scale and in story as the dozens of now iconic characters come together for one last confrontation of good versus evil. Following the book like a sacred text rather than an outline, the final installment has a lot to please longtime fans of both mediums. Yet after the dust settled at Hogwarts there was a feeling of incompleteness. After eight films and over 17 hours of film I realized something – I wanted more.
Like any good Part 2, this film begins immediately where the last film ends as we join Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the surviving escapees of Malfoy Manor at Bill and Fleur Weasley’s cottage. There are still four remaining Horcruxes (objects containing fragments of Dark Lord Voldemort’s soul) and the three protagonists must continue their quest to find and destroy them. Harry convinces the goblin Griphook to help them break into Gringott’s Bank where he suspects the next Horcrux is hidden which leads to the first big action scene of the fast-moving film. Unfortunately the first moments of the film are glossed over like checking off a “to-do” list from the book and the real satisfaction doesn’t come until we get to Hogwarts.
It is completely apropos that both the books and the films conclude where Harry’s wizarding journey began – at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here the armies of good and evil converge in one climactic battle that is emotionally and visually satisfying. We are reunited with some of the series most memorable characters, most notably student Neville Longbottom and professor Minerva McGonagall, and great locations like the Chamber of Secrets and Quidditch Field. During the battle the sub-plots gradually wrap-up including the Harry and Ginny relationship (which is decidedly lacking in chemistry), and Ron and Hermione’s on-again off-again flirtation (they finally kiss in a perfect moment).
Then the entire story ends just as we expected to – with our hero sacrificing all for the greater good. The downfall of evil and conclusion of the film happen so fast that there is barely time to register the fact that it is all over. Thankfully there is a nice epilogue set two decades in the future that is self-deprecating enough to be enjoyable and nostalgic rather than campy. It also gives the viewer time to digest what has just happened and reflect back on the entire eight-film adventure and anticipate the opportunity to relive it in the future.
The large majority of the final film centers expressly on Harry’s arc, which comes to a rewarding climax when Harry alone confronts Voldemort one of the film’s (and possibly the series’) best moments. Through seven films we have seen Harry grow emotionally, discover himself, and learn that despite being the “Chosen One” he is fallible. However, that fallibility which has always grounded Harry is not entirely present in this final installment and the writers and director David Yates present Harry as an almost Christ-like figure. In an early scene Harry agrees to return the coveted sword of Gryffindor to the goblin Griphook without any plans to deceive him. This makes the goblin the villain and brings his story to an unsympathetic end while Harry remains sinless. This lowered the stakes slightly when the boy wizard eventually seeks forgiveness.
One of the key things that has always made the Harry Potter film franchise a superior one to comparable blockbusters is the way it treats death. The audience is never made to cheer at a character’s demise and even the unsympathetic ones are given a fair treatment. During their escape from Gringotts on the back of a dragon several goblins who have betrayed Harry are killed in a breath of fire. Instead of seeing this from the characters’ point of view the camera gets close up on the face of the exasperated goblins. From this disturbing but poignant perspective we see can truly grasp the finality of death, a theme that will be re-occurring throughout the film’s devastating battle scenes.
Apart from being a confrontation with mortality the long anticipated Battle at Hogwarts also proves why production designer Stuart Craig and set decorator Stephenie McMillan have been nominated for three Oscars for their work on the Potter films (hopefully this film will earn them a fourth). Hogwarts has never looked more beautiful than when it is partially destroyed after the first wave of attacks. The courtyard is littered with bodies and debris as if to represent memories that have accumulated during Potter’s tenure and the centuries of wizards before him. Each wing of the great castle gets its appropriate attention as if the director wants to showcase the imagination that has been put into the building throughout the years and it is an absolute joy to revisit.
Throughout the years the franchise has been somewhat of a revolving door for amazing British thespians from Royal Shakespeare Company veterans to television stars. However, it is definitely Daniel Radcliffe who stands out in this film as the actor who has not only grown the most over the ten-year franchise, but proven he can anchor a film as a strong and conflicted protagonist. Radcliffe has gone from a child who seemed to be mimicking his acting coach to a real performer who makes choices and executes them with brilliant uniqueness. During his climactic moments Radcliffe will break your heart as his eyes reflect the entire journey and the decisions he has made along the way.
Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith are additional standouts as Snape and McGonagall respectively and it is refreshing to see each of them fleshed out. There is unfortunately not enough time in the film to conclude our relationships with all of the characters who have become so memorable through the years. This lack of conclusion will likely inspire audience members to pick up the books or revisit the earlier films.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the eighth and final Harry Potter film is merely the fact that it still feels fresh after seven previous installments. In an industry that is constantly recycling, reducing, and reusing plots, characters, and gimmicks the Harry Potter films have risen above that mediocrity and managed to create something truly satisfying. These films will be revisited for decades to come and deservedly so. Let’s just hope that the sequel hungry Hollywood will let this marvelous series end on a gloriously high note.
Bottom Line: Best viewed back to back with Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 will inspire a myriad of emotions as it all ends too quickly.