Monday, 8 August 2011

Avada Kadavra! Does Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 kill off my dislike of the series?

I can't deny the popularity of this franchise, but I really seem to have a problem with the Harry Potter movies. There is something about them that, for whatever reason, just doesn't quite capture the magic of my own imagination from back when I read the books. A school full of wizards just seems a bit childish when it hasn't been edited to my liking in my head. I mean, am I really supposed to take Dumbledore seriously when he's wearing a silly hat?

'That isn't what apparition looks like!' I'll cry, as Harry is sucked into thin air as if by an invisible vacuum cleaner. 

'Voldemort! Hold your wand like a man!' I'll shout as he prances about, brandishing it like a feather duster.

'Hermione! Stop violating my mind with your enchanting good looks! You're supposed to be plain. Plain goddammit!' 

That third one only applies to the recent movies I swear. 

They have always felt really rushed too. As if there wasn't quite enough time to focus on any real character development before time constraints forced the story into the next set piece before it was ready. I guess this is an inherent problem with trying to cram hundreds of pages of novel into a feature film, which makes sense, but unfortunately doesn't dispel that niggling feeling that I simply don't care enough about these impostors of my imagination to ever be emotionally invested in the story. A story that already holds no surprises because I've read the books. Which are better.

Does Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 break away from the same perceived problems and redefine the franchise with a last ditch attempt at greatness? The answer is yes. And also no.

This is without doubt, in my opinion the best Harry Potter film to date. It's isn't perfect, but as the second in a two part set, it benefits from the blessing of not having to worry too much about lengthy exposition and development. Or what should be lengthy exposition and development but isn't. As a result, the breakneck speed at which we move from each major event to the next doesn't feel rushed anymore. It feels exciting. And you can enjoy it without wondering why that bit in the book has been left out that explained fully why somebody did something somewhere.

In a very early scene, the trio escape from Gringotts the underground bank on the back of what is probably the coolest CGI dragon that I have ever seen. And lets face it, dragons are cool. I got a real sense of elation as it emerged amongst a mess of screeching metal and flying mortar, spitting fire into the air and bellowing at the top of its lungs.  Fortunately this set the precedent for most of the movie culminating in a fantastic assault on Hogwarts by Voldemort and his Death Eaters that was exciting, moving and sometimes funny, in a good way.

I need to make special mention of a particular scene, regarding a major plot development concerning the connection between Severus Snape and Harry, that very, very, nearly moved me to tears. Between Alan Rickmans mournfull hang dog expression and the movies fantastic musical score I was nearly broken. I can tell you that maintaining a stoic macho presence in the cinema while dealing with this kind of emotional punishment was not easy. However it was a nice surprise to be moved like this by a film that I traditionally don't care about.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson obviously all reprise their roles as Harry, Hermoine and Ron and for the most part put in decent performances. Grint in particular is both convincing and funny. I was especially impressed at his reaction to a death of a major character and find him very watchable. Daniel Radcliffe can be a bit wooden at times, but did what he had to when he needed to and I found myself routing for him, so he must have been doing something right. 

Nearly all of the other major characters make an appearance and some get their own moments of glory or heroic death. Most notably Neville Longbottom, (Matthew Lewis) and Molly Weasley, (Julie Walters) who both get to participate in some major asskickery.  Helena Bonham Carter is good value as always as Bellatrix Lestrange coming off well as a deranged sidekick to Lord Voldemort.

Ralph Fiennes is fantastic in his flamboyant and (it has to be said) slightly camp depiction of the great You-Know-Hitler-Wizard himself: Lord Voldemort. 

Unfortunately, just like in the books, it's the convoluted and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion of Voldemort and Harry's story arc that lets it all down. Only in the movie, we have to deal with the cliché that is the main baddie suddenly acting retarded in the big showdown at the end. If it isn't Hans Gruber fucking around at the end of Die Hard it's Agent Smith pissing about with trains. In this, without spoiling too much, Mr Greatest Dark Wizard Of All Time forgets how to use his unblockable  killing curse. Happy trails Riddle!

It undermines Harry's eventual triumph and is just plain annoying. Then on top of that, if you add the ridiculously contrived mass confusion over who is the actual master of the Elder Wand into the mix it just gets silly.

However, there is still far more good than bad in this magical family romp. And I just got to use the phrase 'Magical family romp' in a serious review. Accio coffee!


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