I'm a big fan of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. It felt like a much-deserved -- and much-needed -- breather after all the frenetic (and sometimes indistinguishable) action of the last few installments of the Potter series. I liked how strange and sad and slow-moving it was. I liked how a good portion of the movie was just Harry, Hermione and Ron sitting around in silence, full of woe and existential dread, not really knowing just what in the hell they're supposed to do next and where they're supposed to go to do it. Director David Yates finally came into his own with HP7.1, directing with confidence and showing off a unique and cohesive visual style.
Yates' approach to Part 1 makes an even stronger impression now that Part 2 has been released. For if Part 1 is the calm, then Part 2 is most definitely the storm.
And, oh, what a wild, tempest-toss'd storm 'tis.
The biggest set piece of this truly grand and operatic curtain call is, of course, the final face-off between dueling wizards Harry and Voldemort, a battle that's been foreshadowed since the first few minutes of the very first movie (which was released ten years ago, by the way -- zoinks!). But there's a bit of business to attend to before our Hero and Villain can embrace their respective destinies...
Deathly Hallows - Part 2 begins with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) tracking down the remaining hidden Horcruxes, the enchanted trinkets that contain bits of the evil Lord Voldemort's soul. Destroy these little treasures, and the Dark Lord will be vulnerable to attack. The Horcruxes can be tricky things to find, not to mention nasty little things (remember, one of them taunted poor Ron with images of a naked Harry and Hermione locked in a passionate embrace in Deathly Hallows - Part 1), so of course tracking them down is no easy task...
Their journey takes them to the Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which they break into with the help of the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis, one of the franchise's unsung go-to cast members) and where the ensuing dragon battle makes the dragon chase in Goblet of Fire look downright quaint in comparison. They must also convince Hogwarts ghost Helena Ravenclaw (Trainspotting's eternal cutie Kelly MacDonald, making an eleventh-hour appearance in the series) to reveal the location of another, an eerie sequence fraught with the usual peril and treachery this trio never fails to find.
It's the Hogwarts scenes that really get under your skin during the pre-game warm-up. The once glorious School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is now a haunted, gloomy death camp lorded over by the treacherous Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, in what's probably his best-ever Snape performance). Remember the happy place of joy and wonder we were introduced to way back in The Sorcerer's Stone? That Hogwarts is long gone, and to see what it has become is genuinely unnerving. Indeed, the time for wide-eyed innocence is over -- now blood will, and must, be shed.
Emotions run high and the stakes are raised until, finally, we get to the extended climax: the battle between The Boy Who Lived and He Who Must Not Be Named. It's a beautifully staged, expertly paced and artistically breathtaking triumph of choreography, special effects and, most importantly, powerful acting. Ralph Fiennes, who up until this point had been simply the boogeyman in the shadows, finally gets to infuse Voldemort with a sense of humanity and, indeed, vulnerability -- his seemingly constant exclamations of "Yeee-aaauuuugghhh!" convey all the anger, frustration and, yes, fear that he feels in taking on this little brat that's caused him so much trouble. Radcliffe, who's become quite the skilled actor, caps off his ten-year performance with an emotionally and physically exhausting performance -- he rarely cracks a smile in this one, but he will inspire many.
It's rather astonishing to look back on the Potter movies and see how much they themselves have grown up along with their young stars. Really, director Chris Columbus' comparatively simplistic first two installments almost seem like parodies now compared to the sprawling emotional canvas and dark theatrics of this final bow. But Harry Potter is that rare film series that always knew exactly where it was going, and the fact that this finale is almost exactly the movie we were hoping it would be is an astounding -- and oh so satisfying -- achievement.