Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Grade: B +
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, and Helena Bonham Carter
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 10 min.
As the action-filled climax to the acclaimed fantasy series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 dispenses with much additional character development or insight, save for Harry’s revelatory gaze through a prism formed from the tears of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Instead, the film draws upon a decade of Potter iconography to fashion a nostalgic quietus – with familiar creatures and supporting characters, both living and dead, given one last turn in the spotlight – en route to the fated Ragnarok between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
It is a wistfulness bound to be shared by the British film industry, which the “Harry Potter” franchise has almost singlehandedly buttressed since 2001. Indeed, the entire “Potter” saga has always been best interpreted from a British standpoint. “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is no exception, with the assault on Hogwarts by Voldemort and his dark army especially evocative for a country that over the last 70 years has suffered The Blitz, decades of IRA terrorism and the 7/7 London Underground bombings. An image of students and faulty tending to the dead and injured amidst the rubble of Hogwarts is eerily, perhaps purposefully reminiscent of the aftermath of Luftwaffe air raids during World War II.
Formerly a savior in waiting, Harry Potter is in full Messianic bloom. Instead of a conquering king, however, Harry discovers that his true destiny is to die so that the world might live. He’s even given his own Garden of Gethsemane moment, during which he communes with the heavenly apparition of his father, mother and others.
As BFFs Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) again help Harry try to vanquish Voldemort, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 carries an enjoyable but inevitable air. Director David Yates, whose four Potter films saved the series from a critical standpoint, dutifully fills in the narrative blanks amid what amounts to a special effects extravaganza.
The singular saving grace comes late in the film at the end of a chat between Harry and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) inside an ethereal incarnation of King’s Cross railway station. “Is this real, or has this been happening inside my head?,” asks Harry. “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry,” answers the undead headmaster. “But, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The exchange – slightly reworded from J.K. Rowling’s prose – lands like a load of bricks. Even the cursory suggestion that events occurring beyond – and perhaps even before – this scene might be figments of Harry’s imagination is itself a ruse.
In truth, Dumbledore’s response is directed at the viewer, underscoring the porous line between fiction and individualized reality as insightfully as François Ozon’s Swimming Pool or anything written by Charlie Kaufman. Moreover, it is an instance of utter symbiosis between art and audience, both an acknowledgement and validation of the Potter faithful that have queued up to buy the books and donned capes and makeshift wands to watch the movies.
Capped by a sunbathed, symbolic coda, the enduring moral of the Harry Potter series is the timeliness of art. Nineteen years hence, Harry, Ron and Hermione won’t be the ones introducing their grade school children to the magical wonders of Hogwarts; it’ll be the now-teenage fans who grew up with them.