In cinemas now.
Harry, Ron and Hermione must kill off Voldemort’s horcruxes before taking him on. Voldemort, meanwhile, is laying siege to Hogwarts. Cue apocalyptic, Lord Of The Rings-style battle for Hogwarts, where the last horcrux lies.
It all ends. So says the marketing logline, and end it does, after two and a half hours or so – but is it a fitting end? Is it a successful conclusion?
This is a real roller-coaster, sweeping from epic battles to heartfelt truths, and with a great boss battle to boot. In many ways it’s the best of the Potter movies – it certainly has magical epicness, and it’s quite emotionally affecting in places too – and yet it also doesn’t feel like a Potter movie, as there’s no balancing the school year with magical threats, and no humour of the kind likely to appeal to younger viewers.
There’s also the issue that this is not a movie for the casual viewer. Anybody who last saw a Potter movie when Part I was in cinemas, or has just come in out of curiosity, is going to be pretty confused, despite the jaw-dropping visual highlights. And highlights there are, from the Gringotts dragon, to the assault on Hogwarts, to the final showdown. There are emotional highlights too, especially in the shape of Snape’s heartbreaking backstory.
The action is nicely handled, with the fighting in the ruined castle shot very similarly to the battle for Minas Tirith in The Two Towers. Like Peter Jackson, director David Yates goes for sweeping master shots and artistic slo-mo shots (which could be framed and hung on a wall) for his action set-pieces, and avoids the frenetic and incomprehensible editing style that has become so prevalent in Michael Bay-style summer blockbusters of late.
The acting is much as you’d expect, with pretty much everybody slipping right back into being the characters they’re been playing for years, while Ralph Fiennes does his best from under the latex. Alan Rickman all but steals the film, and Helena Bonham Carter’s impression of Emma Watson is so convincing you’ll think it’s Watson under HBC-like makeup. Maggie Smith’s Professor McGonagall gets a triumphant ass-kicking moment that’s one of the highlights of the movie, and sneaks in a nice use of the lightsaber sound effect in the process – see if you notice it! The score is magnificent, too, harkening to all the previous movies, and fitting the tone of this one perfectly.
That’s not to say the film is perfect, and there are definitely some flaws. Some important characters still have off-screen deaths, as in the book, and these scenes are even flatter on screen, where a visual fate would have been better. Squeezing even half the doorstop of a book into two and a half hours has meant leaving things out. On the one hand, leaving out Neville’s importance to the arc streamlines things nicely (as did leaving the House-Elves union out of Goblet Of Fire) but this also leads to certain characters not getting any comeuppance, and to others looking rather callous for not taking the time to react to some of the nasty things that happen to their friends. It also leads to some unanswered questions, like what exactly happens in Harry’s showdown with Voldemort, and why Hagrid is suddenly a prisoner of the Death-Eaters.
The movie is also very dark. Visually dark, that is: much of it is set at night, in the Highlands, and the depth of darkness is therefore very realistic, but detracts from the work that’s been put into the armies of Death-Eaters besieging Hogwarts. And that’s even in 2-D, and apparently the 3-D process makes things darker. You’re going to need proper blackout conditions to watch it on DVD when it comes out.
There are a few other niggles: too many gaping maws lunging at the screen for the limited 3-D version, for example. The Gringotts ride plays awfully like an ad for the theme park ride too. It’s also very obvious that it’s a child dressed up as Harry when Hagrid hugs him – a trick used in The Lord of the Rings, but never as obviously as here. There are also a lot of shots of faces in the crowd at Hogwarts – living and dead – who are presumably meant to be familiar to us, but aren’t always identified or recognizable. And why is Crabbe suddenly replaced by a new character?
These are just nitpicks, though. Overall, for those who have followed the series and are familiar with it, this is the climax everyone’s been waiting for. The visuals are astounding, and the audience is given time to admire them. The acting ranges from fine to fantastic, the emotional beats are there and very effective – anyone human will surely cry at least once, and punch the air at least one also – the music and sound carry the audience right in, and the story itself is rounded off extremely well.
Well, almost – the irritating ‘19 years later’ epilogue is included, despite there being a perfect closing shot just before it, but you’ll be able to skip it when the DVD comes out.
Verdict: Highly recommended for fans, everybody else might want to do a spot of homework first.
10/10 (if you’ve watched the series, less if you’re merely curious as to what all the fuss is about.)
David A McIntee