Though I doubt that my recommendation will sway anybody to rent (or buy?) the DVD of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” there may be two or three fence-sitters out there who are still thinking about it. To those ambivalent souls, I say, “Go for it!” It wouldn’t hurt to have read the entire run of J.K. Rowling’s seven novels or, failing that, to have seen the previous seven film installments. (The plot of Rowling’s last book was divided for the movie series.) If nothing else, one might wish to see it for the little piece of film history that this most profitable series ever represents.
For both the novels and the movies have been not only immensely popular (and lucrative) but also influential on young readers and representative of advances in movie technology. The films have demonstrated that technology in the service of a good story is a hard combination to beat. They remind us, too, that absent an interesting plot and characters, big budget movies full of cool effects can still bomb spectacularly at the box office—as witness this past summer’s losers.
This current number in the adventures of the Boy Wizard/Chosen One has little of the effervescent humor and brio of the early ones. In fact, it’s downright dark, thematically and visually. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves emphasize the power and complexity of evil, the enormous guts it takes to stand against it. By the close, the boy Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has clearly become a man.
At the very end, the story comes full circle, in a genuinely touching recollection of the beginning. Along with Harry, the principal characters—Harry’s friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as his rival, Draco (Tom Felton)—reunite, but not at Hogwarts School. That magical institution comes under attack during much of the film’s latter half, giving it the feel of an action movie. (I have to admit my attention wandered most in this section, which feels pretty ordinary.) But the appearance of the serpentine Lord Voldemort (the always compelling Ralph Fiennes) and his long mano a mano duel with Harry add some life—along with lots of death—to the proceedings.
After this climactic moment, my favorite piece of spectacle occurs. On the whole, Yates makes judicious use of the “wow!” factor, keeping it in the service of the story, as opposed to having everything and everybody supercharged. Likewise, Alexandre Desplat’s musical score cleverly picks up some of the familiar motifs without leveling us with bombast. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography, like his work in Part I, is always interesting, and Mark Day’s film editing matches his efforts in the previous three installments, maintaining coherence in a story line that constantly threatens to veer off.
“Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is rated “PG-13”: parents should heed the guidance advice here, as there’s some pretty hairy stuff for sub teens, no matter how inured they have become to video game violence. Adults—including those who have become adults during the series’ decade-long run—will appreciate Yates’ review of its characters, played by the cream of the current British acting corps, a bit of instant nostalgia. They are also much more likely to catch the multiple symbolic references—uh, Harry has a Resurrection Stone—than the younguns, without being put off by them. They might even root for this finale to get, finally, at least a Best Picture nomination.