Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 review

The final part of the saga has arrived, but can it survive the hype? Here's our review...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 isn't an ordinary summer blockbuster, or that's what you've been led to believe under assault of all the excitement surrounding it. Seven books, eight films, and ten years since the boy wizard emerged on screen, this is the big finish, but can it live up to the hype?
We begin right in the thick of the action, nothing
but a brief reminder of Part 1's finale to initiate non-fans. There is the overwhelming sense here that those who've just come by to check what all the fuss is about will have to learn quickly, as this isn't a film for beginners. Even an established continuity is dispensed with, as characters who went missing a while ago are present and correct, inside jokes are told with no explanation, and small character moments take precedence over action.

This follow-up to November's Part 1 follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) on his mission to kill Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), an evil wizard threatening to take over the world Harry holds most dear. To do this, he must destroy the four remaining Horcruxes, parts of Voldemort's soul that, when left surviving, ensure he cannot die. Helping him along the way are best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (), and, after they return to Hogwarts, a supporting cast of Britain's finest.

If I were to give you one piece of advice, it would be to see this film with those who haven't read the final book. The story of Harry Potter has become so ingrained in our culture that it's hard to remember a time when words like Quidditch and Hogwarts didn't exist. For fans of the series, both books and films, the anticipation for this final instalment has been so great that it's often threatened to spoil the fun. If you are such a Potterite, seeing it with those who have no preconceptions could renew some of the magic. You cannot put a price on uninformed reaction, ripples in the theatre, and gasps of surprise at the appropriate moments, reminding you of the childhood wonder this boy wizard has managed to capture over this past decade.

But, in many ways, Deathly Hallows as a two-parter has been the most faithful to the source material since Philosopher's Stone. This isn't so surprising when you realise the small quantity of pages the action covers, but it certainly validates the decision to split it in half. Although it sounds like a slightly misguided assumption when considering how much is thrown at you in the last hour, that decision gives the movie room to breathe. Had the novel remained intact, it's likely that all important character moments and deaths would have been lost in translation or rushed to the story's detriment. The series has always been about character, and this had to be maintained.

The physicality that was settled into in Part 1 is not lost here either, most effectively illustrated by a scene in which the trio remove their recently wet clothes without a glimpse of embarrassment that surely would have been a feature of earlier films. These actors have grown up together, and never has it been more clear up on that screen. There are deaths in the film also, sometimes not by magic, but by absolute and bloody force. A scene in which Voldemort walks through a recently decimated Gringotts, trailing the blood of dozens of the bank's Goblins, sets the tone and reminds us quickly and cruelly that this is not the magical world we witnessed way back in Chris Columbus' boarding school romps, but all-out war.

As with all finales, people are getting it on left, right and centre. The long-awaited kiss between Ron and Hermione isn't a letdown, its sweetness reminding us of their true age and experience. With the maturity they've been playing with over the last couple of films, it's nice to be brought back to something as simple as first love and awkward first kisses. Unlike these two, who feel they've evolved over time, Harry's romance with Ginny is almost non-existent. The pair had as much screen time as could be possible in the face of all the war and destiny, but previous films just hadn't set up enough backstory for their relationship to pack any emotional resonance.

But kudos to Daniel Radcliffe, who not only has to carry the whole film on his shoulders, but has to play all manner of extreme emotion and situations in every frame. Whereas the books let you inside Harry's head, Radcliffe has to paint them all over his face. You start to question whether the exhaustion and maturity buried behind his eyes is great acting, or the performer crumbling under pressure; I choose to believe the former. His role flits between action and reaction throughout the film, and he does both beautifully. In the past, he seemed to find the emotional side of the character hard to tap into, but here his strongest moments are scenes without dialogue, in which he must simply emote.

Harry's meddling means Voldemort starts to get more and more desperate, and subtle changes in Ralph Fiennes' performance help to pull this off. Whereas before you got the sense he was given free rein with the character, the only script note being: evil bastard, here he plays up the villain's vulnerable and human side. The same goes for Alan Rickman, whose trademark slow delivery and delicious contempt is present, but not what you'll take away with you. His story is something the fans have been waiting a long time for, and he more than delivers. If anything, the swift turnaround in Rickman's performance enhances the emotional wallop of the sequence, a pivotal moment made all the more tragically beautiful.

And the battle itself more than lives up to The Lord of the Rings-style spectacle it deserves. Considering it involves a bunch of school kids aided by their professors, that's saying something. What brings it up a notch is the magical creatures and 'army on a hillside' effect that the collective Death-Eaters evoke. In addition, a dragon sequence outside Gringotts is simply astonishing and is sure to remove any memories of the dodgy CGI troll in Philosopher's Stone or animatronic snake in Chamber of Secrets. This looks like the real deal, and I'd be surprised if anything visually surpasses it for a good long while.

The film never loses the sense of humanity in the fight though, even if this sometimes leads to too many stops and starts in the action. At its best, the battle will kill or maim someone you care about, raising the stakes, but for a portion of the film, Harry spends too much time running around the castle for clues. This chasing leads Harry to the Grey Lady, a Hogwarts ghost with knowledge of a final Horcrux, crucial to Harry's plan. Played by Kelly Macdonald with a crazed passion, the character is disconcerting and tragic, even though we've never met her before. The scene in which Harry questions her, as well a couple of the more gruesome deaths, wouldn't feel out of place in a horror movie.

Speaking of deaths, we welcome back some old faces. Michael Gambon has always been slightly too rough with his role as seemingly the benign Dumbledore, but here his loyalty to Harry's best interests are questioned, and the callousness with which he plays the character in flashback is disconcerting to watch. The betrayal and revelations about his character were dealt with more densely in the book of course, but here the light touch with which they are exposed gives just enough away to make its overarching point. The other teachers get their moment in the sun too, with Maggie Smith clearly having a ball playing the usually straight and narrow McGonagall.

The 3D conversion isn't perfect, and has received a lot of criticism. What it does do well however, is add depth and texture to an already familiar set. Hogwarts has always been a character in the story as much as Harry, Ron or Hermione, but here it feels as if you could reach out a touch it, so increasing the sense of loss when it is destroyed. The Gringotts sequence is most impressive however, as the journey through the vaults has a similar effect to the rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. It reminds you of how spectacular these films can be, most prominent when they're simply having fun.

Deathly Hallows Part 2 is an enjoyable two hours of entertainment, a feeling that could be lost in the mass of anticipation it accompanies. It's not perfect, but neither was the series as a whole. What we have is a crescendo of talent, love and ambition that broke records, generated huge amounts of revenue and will remain loved by millions. Potter naysayers will never think of it as more than a throwaway fantasy, but this fitting finale, more than ever, proves its worth and ambition.