The cinematography is beautiful. It’s the first thing I notice. If the first film was glorious Disney sparkle and the sixth was eerie and blue, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 2 goes straight for post-apocalyptic grey. It’s as bleached and hopeless as Terminator 4, but has the poetry and grace of the first Pirates of the Caribbean. It could be Gore Verbinski at the helm, and that is high praise, but fair: Potter 7 pt 2 is a very good film.
Looking back, it’s almost inconceivable that these films have been part of the same series, though many memorable characters (such as John Hurt as Ollivander) return for the final installment.
Still, despite impeccable casting (notwithstanding that the infant cast took five films to learn how to act), the Harry Potter franchise as been as much an auteur’s game as Batman. David Yates – hitherto unknown, save for a few well-received TV dramas – has been its Christopher Nolan. Not that Potter was dead in the water after the patchy first four, but he was the first director to get the Boy Wizard; the first to understand that to serve the stories best you had to throw the book to one side after a cursory glance and get on with the business of making a movie.
Paradoxically, Yates’s Potters were the most faithful of the bunch, because they hung together as entertaining works in their own right rather than slavish illustrations with lousy pacing. And they look beautiful.
David Yates knows that no adaptation of Potter can capture what we’ve established in our imaginations, and lets many of the novel’s most memorable moments take place out of eyeshot. Sometimes this works – Ron and Hermione’s long-awaited first kiss takes place with their backs to us, so we just see arms and hair. It feels less prurient and intrusive than Harry’s kiss with Cho in the fifth film. Nagini’s encounter with Snape is also conducted obliquely – through a glass darkly – with Harry outside the window looking in.
Sometimes it doesn’t work so well. Key scenes with Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin and Tonks take place offscreen, leaving only the emotive aftermath – which since we didn’t see it happen is disappointingly unaffecting.
Don’t expect to be completely unmoved, though. Snape’s memories are included – a little trimmed, but certainly there – and I bawl my eyes out for the entirety of that section, blowing my nose noisily as Harry stands blinking and dazed from the revelations.
It’s easiest to say what HP7 pt 2 is not: Lord of the Rings. You might have got a little too used and a little too spoiled by expecting big epic finales and cast-of-thousands battles to be Best Cinema Ever. This is not that, but it’s still a healthy “four-star” film – one to be seen and recommended. I’d call it on a par with the first two X-Men or Spider-Man films: robust fantasy fare that hits the right notes in generally the right places. Julie Walters’ climactic “Not my daughter, you bitch!” line might not be up there with Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, but is a fair echo of Joyce’s similar line in Buffy – and the ensuing fight with Helena Bonham Carter is suitably thrilling.
Crucially, where most trims are made, they’ve been deft and judicious. Extraneous sub-plots are whittled away and characters behave in a way that’s appropriate to the picture. Hagrid’s mute grief is more affecting than would be his blubbering; the omission of the centaurs and house elves from the battle makes the scene less crass and Disneyfied. The heroic speech by Neville Longbottom misfires, but this is counteracted by the addition of the World’s Most Awkward Hug featuring Draco Malfoy – a fleeting moment that is already turning into a meme.
The action scenes don’t drag in a way that blights a lot of Transformers-style blockbusters, and the visual effects belie a surprisingly modest budget.
Like JK Rowling’s novels, it’s not technically a masterpiece, but that never did Star Wars any harm. David Yates has done a fine job of bringing a much-loved, populist but thoroughly satisfying series to life (and eventual death). Most gratifying of all, he’s done it beautifully.