It’s been quite an adventure. Eight films in ten years and despite their variable quality—the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, marks the series’ high point—audiences have remained steadfast and their continued support has helped make the Harry Potter franchise the most profitable in film history.
We’ve seen friendships forged, loved ones lost, and evil rise from the dead. And regardless of the series’ progressive darkening, we’ve never lost sight of the magic through the malice.
No difference here then as the end is nigh and the final battle is upon us; there’s no escaping the truth that all manner of wizard folk and magical beasties were harmed in the making of this production. But what a final battle it is.
Director David Yates (who has had sole directorial control of the series since Order of the Phoenix) drops the languorous teenage angst and sexual frustration that were the hallmarks of the more adolescent entries and instead conjures a crescendo of magical mayhem, intertwining action and emotion in a surprisingly adult-toned production. Blood flows freely and main characters, some of whom have been with us since The Philosopher’s Stone, are slaughtered without mercy or fanfare.
Yates’ focus on action is in stark contrast to the previous film, a listless staging piece which was all dry set-up with little excitement. Basically the cinematic equivalent of foreplay, Deathly Hallows Part I served only to set the stage for this grand finale and get all the moribund plot details out of the way so we can get to the good stuff here in Part II.
Beginning immediately after Part I, with only a brief, and slightly awkward, plot refresher, we’re thrust right back into the thick of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione’s (Emma Watson) quest for Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) horcruxes that takes them from the depths of the Gringotts bank vault to the top of Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower. However, with each horcrux that is found and disposed of comes a growing awareness of Harry’s intention in the mind of Voldemort, who retaliates by attacking Hogwarts with an immense army of Death Eaters, Giants and Spiders.
The battle that dominates the second half exhibits Yates’ real craftsmanship. We’ve seen wizard fights before, but never anything on the scale of this. Nothing feels out of place or missing. The trio’s desperate race to complete their mission is wrapped up in what never fails to feel like a titanic clash of good and evil where swooping vistas of the Hogwarts castle portray the staggering scale of devastation.
Even though Deathy Hallows Part II is relentlessly paced and resembles a war film at times, there are poignant moments of intimacy, melancholy, and genuine kindness and humanity, and far from hindering the action set-pieces these touching moments imbue the proceedings with a sense of inevitability, drama, and tension.
It’s never really been about the action, despite the indescribable cinematic experience on offer here. The conflict has always existed within the characters themselves. Courage versus anger; self-preservation versus honour; and, ultimately, love and compassion versus fear and hate.
And, thankfully and somewhat surprisingly, everyone’s brought their A-game, even Daniel Radicliffe—who has been an awkward on-screen presence ever since he first opened his mouth (“I’m a whaaat?”) in The Philosopher’s Stone—exudes charisma and pathos. What’s more, Voldemort, arguably the best character in the series, finally gets the screen time he deserves and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape is as slimy and irresistible as ever. Indeed, Deathly Hallows Part II, much like all the other Potter films, is if nothing else a collection and exhibition of some of the finest British actors going.
It’s hard not to get swept up by this emotional climax to the Harry Potter franchise. Even though the story and its characters have their flaws and blemishes, the world that David Yates has created from JK Rowling’s novel is, you could say, magical. As the final blows of the final battle are thrown it’s impossible not to be moved to stand with Harry and co., and as goodbyes go, it’s a triumphant send off for the most beloved and successful children’s story of all time.
Move over Azkaban, because Harry Potter saved the best ‘til last.