Note: While “Harry Potter 7” was actually split up into two pieces that were released eight months apart, this review treats both halves of the film as one.
It’s not every day one gets to use the words “once in a lifetime,” but there is simply no other way to describe the Harry Potter franchise.
Think about it: what we have here is a series of seven films that spanned a decade, a series that retained most of its original cast and crew, a series wherein we got to witness a slew of children literally grow up onscreen and mature into their roles, and most importantly, a series that established and held onto its original vision. I mean, sure, there are plenty of other franchises with numerous sequels, but few are as interconnected and dependant upon each other as these films are (let alone IMPROVE with each subsequent chapter). Furthermore, most series fall apart around their third movie, and the simple fact that things worked out with nary a hitch for Potter over SEVEN movies and resulted in the highest grossing franchise of all time is simply staggering.
This would all mean nothing, of course, if the franchise was trash, but thankfully, the Potter films were able to maintain a consisent level of quality over their ten year lifespan. They truly are wonderful book adaptations that undeniably retain the epic scope, rich characterizations, and overall spirit of the works that spawned them. Above all else, these movies genuinely gave us a credible magical world onscreen, one that we were eager to revisit over and over again, and it was all due to a perfect storm of superlative set design, seamless special effects, sprawling locations, and minute attention to detail that perfectly conveyed a “lived in” atmosphere. Sure, the series has its flaws – Michael Gambon never quite measured up to the wisdom and warmth that the deceased Richard Harris brought to the role of Albus Dumbledore, for example – but in the end, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The truth is that there is not one BAD Harry Potter film – hell, there’s not even a mediocre one – and that in and of itself should be celebrated.
So of course, given all that, it was only to be expected that with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” this illustrious series would cross the finish line and charge into film history with flying colors.
If you are coming to this seventh and final film blind, then this synopsis won’t help, but here it is anyway: everything comes to a head as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) set out on a worldwide quest in search of the mysterious Horcruxes. These fabled objects are the final key Harry needs in order to defeat the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), since each of the scattered items contains a piece of the Dark Wizard’s soul. With causalities and frayed loyalties along the way, the trail leads our heroes back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the series ends where it began.
I find it ironic that while this last film happens to be my personal favorite of the franchise, it also happens to contain some of the most unclear plot points of the series. In fact, said lack of clarification is considerably pronounced throughout this chapter. There were a number of revelations that could have just plain been explained better, to be frank (the truth behind Harry’s piece of broken glass, the creation of the Horcruxes, and the back story of the Elder Wand are just three examples).
I know this comes across as nitpicking, and it is. To be fair, many of the overall series flaws were transported over from the books, which (as much as I love them) got a bit convoluted at times. In particular, the novels are chock full of exposition – there are entire chapters devoted to people just standing around explaining things – which is not the easiest thing to carry over to film, and I do not envy Steve Kloves, the man behind the adaptation process. It’s hard to be objective when you’re in the thick of writing a sprawling story that has to cover a lot of ground on its own as well as do justice to six other films, but in all honesty, most of said foggy explanations should not have been overlooked. A few choice lines of dialogue here, a few lingering flashback images there, and most of these muddy plot turns would have been cleared up. It’s a tad frustrating to come across such easily fixable problems in a story that is otherwise great, especially this close to the end.
However, an even more pressing problem for me was the way in which “Deathly Hallows” handled Dumbledore. This character, who served as a mentor and father figure to Harry leading up to his death, ultimately represents the idea that childhood idols do not hold up well under scrutiny once we reach the age when we begin to question our elders. The man was not perfect, and Harry’s acceptance of this fact is a crucial facet of his maturing process over the course of his life’s journey, but again, this plot thread remains a little too obscure here. There were other instances in the film where revelations were illuminated by flashbacks or dramatizations, and I don’t see why this wasn’t likewise done during the sequence in which light was shone upon Dumbledore’s past. The same goes for Voldemort’s back story – the parallels between the Dark Wizard and Harry would only have been strengthened if we found out more about this crucial character. Granted, this is a problem that can actually be traced back to the sixth film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which definitely would have benefitted from more Voldemort flashbacks.
It’s no secret to say that “Deathly Hallows” climaxes with an epic clash between Harry and Voldemort. Without giving too much away, I will say that while I absolutely loved the way in which the fight was visually brought to life, I felt that the “finishing move” was something that came about too easily for Harry. Again, it’s a problem that can also be found in the book, where the moment is overly explained and comes across as a contrived, almost accidental win for our hero. And while I always appreciated the fact that Harry was never the top wizard of his age, and that he always overcame obstacles by using bravery and smarts more so than magic, I still feel like he could’ve vanquished his arch nemesis in a slightly more satisfying way.
Okay, no more criticisms – from here on out, it’s gonna be straight-up gushing. You have been warned…
In general, you won’t find me making any “in the book, this happened, which means it SHOULD happen in the movie too!” comparisons; in fact, I actually encourage screenwriters to deviate from the stories they’re adapting when needed, simply because not everything that works in a book will work in a movie. I truly feel that adaptations should stand on their own, and that’s why I’ve decided never to read a series that is to be adapted again – it’s too distracting. But in this case, I have to make special mention of how perfect the casting was from frame one till the last. It’s almost as if these great characters walked right off the page and onto a movie screen. The vast cinematic Potter cast, each and every one of them from all seven films, is exactly as author J.K. Rowling originally conceived and described them in her novels.
The three central heroes in particular have a presence and chemistry you cannot plan, and their casting turned out to be the primary masterstroke, because the series would not work if we did not buy them as lifelong friends. Rupert Grint admirably shuffles between comic relief and fierce loyalty. Emma Watson fully embodies Hermione, the brains of the group, with the requisite fire and intelligence. And Daniel Radcliffe truly depicts a hero for the ages, giving life to an internalized character with aplomb and grace. Following Radcliffe’s evolution from awestruck boy to confused, angry youth to stalwart and humble leader is one of this series’ great pleasures.
The biggest creative accomplishment of these stories, both on the page and onscreen, is the successful reconfiguration of age-old themes and tropes. We’ve seen countless “Chosen One” fantasy tales, but never one that was presented in quite this way. The Potter franchise is as much about a boy learning to cherish his loved ones and discovering the meaning of selflessness as much as it is about magic and wizards. Every chapter corresponds with an emotion of adolescence, a different stage of growth, and the powerful ways in which all the carefully-plotted layers and resonant themes pay off by the end of “Deathly Hallows” is simply magnificent. The story, which starts out as a mournful road movie that tests the bond between three best friends and ends with the highest swell of emotion imaginable, is notable in the way it brings everything full circle. The entire series is paid homage to here, as sequences and locations are revisited and subplots and love stories and conflicts and character arcs that were introduced in past installments are brought to their rightful conclusions. If nothing else, Rowling should be applauded for the incredible amount of foresight it took to plan all this out and pay it off so well.
The film culminates in a huge battle at Hogwarts, and the fact that we have grown to care about this place as much as the human characters truly shows how effective these films have been from a world-building standpoint. When we see those familiar spires aflame, this place of such whimsy and wonder being torn asunder, we are reminded how far this series has come. Speaking of which, nothing illustrates the evolution of the series better in my mind than the ultimate fate of Dobby the House Elf. When we first met the tiny creature in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” he was in a family film (albeit with dark undertones). Eight years later, Dobby is reintroduced to us in a young adult story. I believe that everything this series is trying to say can pretty much be boiled down to what happens to this character – the “death of innocence” as it were – and again, his graceful exit from the franchise is pulled off masterfully, all thanks to director David Yates.
In fact, Yates has turned out to be the MVP of this series, a title he wrestled away from the franchise’s more experienced directors. Simply put, I absolutely love the way he directed the last three Potter movies. His camera placements, his use of silence, what he chooses to linger on and cut away to – these are some of the best-directed fantasy films ever. Yates brought this final stretch of Potter films to life in a truly stunning way, and since he ended up shepherding half the series, he deserves a large chunk of credit for its success.
So, while the plot definitely could have been better-explained at times, and certain key characters could’ve been fleshed out more, “Deathly Hallows” triumphs in the most important aspect: emotion. I always say that if you can make me feel something, then your movie will win me over. And, as certain sequences unfolded and poignancy washed over me, the slight problems I had with this film were quickly forgotten. The movie unquestionably hits all the right grace notes, from the quiet introspective nature of the first half to the breathless energy of the second half, and it retroactively makes the entire series better because it fully illuminates the importance of each individual film as an essential piece of a large puzzle.
Part 2 is definitely the standout portion of the film, as it is essentially a two-hour-long third act, and we are swept along with Harry as he weaves in and out of a magical war in order to find the final Horcruxes (there also happen to be more action set pieces here than in the other six movies combined, and all of them are great). We feel a palpable sense of dread and tension as the Death Eaters gather for their assault. Adrenaline courses through us as the battle for Hogwarts ensues. There are some superlative sequences in this section of the film, but few are as powerful as the revelation of Severus Snape’s true nature. Alan Rickman opens the door to this character’s soul in his final moments onscreen, and the ensuing flashback journey through all seven movies is a wonderfully put together piece of filmmaking.
From top to bottom, moment after moment, everything in the latter half of Part 2 simply works, and it’s because of Yates’ skillful execution as much as it is because of the heartfelt performances and accumulated attachment that results from years of investment in this world. Specifically, the last half hour, as Harry faces death like an old friend and the literal ghosts of his past comfort him, is simply heart-wrenching and amazing. And as the familiar, stirring John Williams musical themes surfaced during the profound epilogue, and I realized that this series had unabashedly succeeded in placing the perfect punctuation mark on the notion that life is cyclical, I smiled. They got it right.
Just in case it hasn’t been made clear by now, I would like to state for the record that I am simply in awe of the Harry Potter series, which admirably managed to create its own unique magical world while exploring the trials of growing up and grafting them onto a decade-spanning adventure story. This truly is something we have never seen before, and never will see again. Ultimately, minor flaws and nitpicks don’t matter, because they pulled it off incredibly well – credit J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, David Yates, and all the other filmmakers and cast members who brought this universe to life over the years, because they wholeheartedly deserve it. As history has proven, there will be other great fantasies, and there will be other successful franchises, and there will be other relatable heroes, but none will ever quite be like Harry Potter.
Once in a lifetime, indeed.