And DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 gets a lot right, mainly providing a satisfying conclusion that sticks the landing emotionally. It's the darkest of the films by far, which is pretty amazing given the audience. Director David Yates doesn't skirt around character deaths, intense sequences or gruesome images. (Fetus Voldemort will haunt my dreams forever.) In fact, Hogwarts is nothing like itself, having long lost that sense of childlike wonder and replaced it with utter dread and hopelessness that would be enough to discourage young viewers.
However, the film still manages to be touching and even warm in spots. The pre-battle scene where Harry speaks with the ghost of his friends and family is heartbreaking and provides a key emotional moment between the chaos. Likewise, Snape’s backstory, though quick, packs quite a wallop that reaches back to every previous film and gives Alan Rickman some much deserved room to stretch his acting chops. Overall, this is the area where the series' perfect casting comes in to play. All the big players, from the main trio (who truly turned out to be a godsend over the last 7 films) to the perfectly powerful/pathetic Ray Fiennes bring their A-game. And pretty much every supporting role from Maggie Smith to John Hurt gets their moments to shine one last time.
While DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 was the first film that felt like reading the books was really necessary to fully enjoy the extended pace, I assumed it was setup leading to the action packed finale in PART 2. So it was great to see this movie open with…more setup. There are long scenes of exposition, new characters introduced and a continuing search for new Horcruxes that all feels like it belongs in the first film. That disconnect represents the shortcomings of the two-part story and a weird plot structure which the creative team never 100% nailed to make each film stand on its own.
And that brings me to my main gripe with DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2: Even if there are a billion people that have read the book, you can't assume that every person watching the movie can fill in necessary details. So while there may be answers to the following issues and nitpicks, I'm judging this solely as a film and what's presented here that kept PART 2 from being a truly spectacular conclusion for me:
- Pacing. I get that it's difficult whittling a massive novel in to a film (or two films), but the majority of the running time here just feels like Yates quickly moving from big moment to big moment from the books without a lot of finesse or sense of structure. The movie also doesn’t handle the passage of time very well (How many Horcruxes are left again?), with a strange mix of dragging and feeling rushed.
- The Battle of Hogwarts. After waiting multiple movies for the big battle, it was kind of disappointing. Sure, it's long and drawn out, but we honestly don't see much of it and never get a good sense of geography for most of the action. Seeing it mainly through the point of view of just the main characters is an inspired way of tackling it, but it makes the battle feel small and quick. We see important characters randomly dead later on, but no idea what happened to them. Feels like a missed dramatic opportunity.
- Dumbledore’s brother is completely random and pointless. I love Ciaran Hinds, but he literally has a couple brief scenes that hint to much more backstory…and then we never get it. His presence, along with Snape's flashback, sets out to makes Dumbledore seem like the world's biggest dick.
- Harry's Limbo. I still don't understand this. Is it some magical purgatory? Does it have something to do with the Deathly Hallows? Why is Dumbledore being super nice to Harry again after the rest of the movie convinced me he never cared about him? And why is there a rotting fetus with Ray Fiennes face on it?
- Harry's final showdown with Voldemort. I can't be the only person who thought it was almost comical how underwhelming this was, right? With seven movies leading up to it, the brief Dragonball Z-style power struggle just seemed anticlimactic. And when it's finally over and the world's greatest villain is defeated, why is everyone just sitting around hanging out like they're on their lunch break?! (I also love that there needs to be a big awkward exposition dump at the end to explain how the wands got switched.)
- Neville. Where the hell did this guy come from? I get the inspirational transformation from nerdy kid to unexpected hero, but the degree to which they build him up was surprising. It seems like Neville gets more "hero" moments in this movie than Harry—the bridge fight, his rousing speech to Voldemort, the slow motion shot of him waking up, defeating the snake. It was so overbearing that I was almost expecting him to be revealed as the real hero of the prophecy in a brilliant twist. There are so many other characters we have emotional stakes in (Ron? Hermione?) that could've shared some of these moments.
I realize I just invited the wrath of Potter fanboys everywhere, but I'm not dismissing the world or characters that J.K. Rowling created, but pointing out some of the flaws of this as a standalone movie that needs to wrap up an entire series. There's still plenty to love here and it doesn’t tarnish the overall story as a whole, but I can't help but wonder if DEATHLY HALLOWS would've made one amazing single film instead of two good movies.
Maximum Movie Mode: These really do live up to the "maximum" in the title. At nearly three hours, this all-encompassing experience provides a running picture-in-picture track with hosts that include Matthew Lewis (Neville), producer David Heyman and other cast and crew members. Each takes you in to one of many branching featurettes, including behind the scenes docs for specific sequences, interviews with key personnel, deleted scenes (at the proper placement) and much, much more. This is a much watch for fans.
Focus Points: If you don't have time for the entire MMM, you can also watch the behind the scenes featurettes here on their own. At nearly half an hour total, you can get detailed looks at specific characters and moments, costumes, production design, action sequences and more.
Final Farewells: This quick but bittersweet segment finds the cast and crew reminiscing and bidding farewell to the world of the film and the friends they've made along the way.
Deleted Scenes: Overall, these are too short to really pack much of a punch, but fans of the books still might get a kick out of extended moments with Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, the Hog's Head and more.
A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe: It's kind of amusing to see an author interview her creation (to an extent), but this seemingly gimmicky idea gives way to quite an amazing and revealing chat that chronicles the evolution of the novels and film series. Rowling and Radcliffe have such an effortless chemistry together you might find yourself swept up in hearing them talk about their favorite moments that the entire hour might pass by too quickly.
The Women of Harry Potter: From Hermione to Mrs. Weasly, a look at how the fairer sex has faired in the universe of the films and the books.
The Goblins of Gringotts: A nice, albeit random, featurette on the forgotten creature of the series.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: A very quick peek at the UK attraction which you can visit.
Pottermore: J.K. Rowling briefly pitches her new website.
You also g et an UltraViolet Digital Copy, which, everyone can agree, sucks.
Extra Tidbit: Don't forget, all HARRY POTTER movies (including this one) are going in the "vault" on December 29, 2011, so buy yours before it's too late!