Sunday, August 7, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PT. 2          B-                   
Great Britain  USA  (130 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  David Yates

You and who’s army?             —Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis)

Pt. 2 begins pretty much where Pt. 1 left off, with Voldemort assuming the seemingly invincible powers by attaining the world’s most powerful wand by raiding Dumbledore’s coffin, leaving the wizard world in a state of flux and Harry still searching for the missing Horcruxes, the secret to dismantling Voldemort’s alleged invincibility.  Action sequences are fast and frequent in this segment, where right out of the gate the gang of three are off on another mission together, following clues and tracking down secrets into the farthest corners of the earth, this time leading them to the bank vault of none other than Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter, easily one of the best characters in the entire series, as the unbridled joy she takes in her malevolence is unsurpassed by anyone.  Using the invisibility cloak to hide Harry and a goblin as his accomplice, not to mention ingenious disguises where Hermione assumes the look of Bellatrix, they simply walk right into Gringott’s bank to have a look, where the entry in resembles one of the world’s greatest roller coaster rides.  Of course, all doesn’t go exactly as planned, where Hermione even makes a joke about how their ideas never work out as planned, yet it’s a clever opening, a masterful extended sequence, probably the best in the entire film, filled with ups and down delights and surprises, as the audience is immediately reeled into this final chapter.     

The title character is given plenty of legroom in this one, with Ron and Hermione fading from prominence, showing up only as needed rather than initiating much of the action.  Interestingly, much of this plays out in Harry’s head, where he has past recollections, strange, otherworldy visions, intuitive thoughts about where to seek out Horcruxes, which all but abandoned him in the last meandering episode, but also visions of the current whereabouts of Voldemort, where much of the film turns into what he senses is happening around him, where he’s actually tuning into the totality of his entire life.  Hogwarts has been taken over by the dark side, surrounded by life-sucking Death Eaters, with Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) named the headmaster, where students are marched around with military precision like concentration camp victims, ordered by Snape to provide information about Harry Potter sightings or be severely punished, yet the entire group has facial wounds that suggest they have already been tortured.  Nonetheless, Harry sneaks into the grounds searching for Horcruxes, where he runs into Dumbledore’s mysteriously bitter brother Aberforth (Ciarán Hinds), also a sister (Hebe Beardsall) that lives inside a painting, who seem to still be holding a grudge against him, where there are illuminating flashback sequences that shed light on their childhood.  Still, another Dumbledore joining the fray has to reap positive benefits, even if reluctantly.

Voldemort uses his own version of mind control at Hogwarts, which begins with young girl students screaming in agony at the pain in their ears before an unseen but all powerful voice overwhelms them all, amounting to little more than bullying.  However when Harry shows himself, along with his own band of self-taught supporters, Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) seems rightfully pleased and aids him in a wand to wand encounter with Snape that runs him off the premises, allowing a spirit of joy to re-enter the premises, at least for the moment.  Aligning all the remaining wizard powers of good, McGonagall creates a spell that brings out giant stone chess player like protectors who were created for a moment such as this, as a spell encircles Hogwarts, like a protective bubble, while Voldemort and his Army gather on a nearby hill with a taste of victory in the air.  The skies are darkened throughout this final installment, given a very ominous, Macbethian tone which foreshadows the inevitable confrontation of the young wizard and the Dark Lord, where a bloody price is ultimately paid.  When his troops charge, the ensuing battle scenes are certainly reminiscent of the filmed version of LORD OF THE RINGS (2001 – 3), which contained an Iliad-like insatiability for blood.  But when the spell initially holds them at bay, Neville chortles with joy, claiming yeah, You and Who’s Army?, an amusing reference to a song made famous by Radiohead in 2001, six years before the final book was released, seen here:  Radiohead - You and Whose Army?  (3:35).  The protective bubble is short-lived however, as a near massacre ensues, leaving Hogwarts resembling the look of Rome, London, or Berlin in the aftermath of World War II, with rubble dominating the landscape.       

However, behind the scenes, Harry is vigilant in finding and destroying the Horcruxes, each one of which wounds Voldemort, leaving him less confident and overpowering, the first time we’ve seen any hint of weakness on his part.  But Harry seems equally drained by each destruction, as if he’s killing off a piece of himself in the process.  There’s some interesting unfinished business with Professor Snape, some quite surprising and even a bit confusing, also more examples of the ruthlessness of Voldemort, before the inevitable confrontation has a bit of the magic potion texture of Romeo and Juliet, where life is suspended momentarily to climb into one of the Harry Potter visions, even as he appears dead to the rest of the world, giving Voldemort the apparent victory he has always sought, delighted at the idea he has finally killed off his young nemesis.  Neville Longbottom, of all people, the "witless wizard" that conjures up laughs in the Voldemort camp, seen as a weakling throughout the entire series, finally rises to the occasion and sets off a student insurrection against the dark side, refusing to go easily, reuniting Harry’s friends, if only in spirit.  Like Tinker Bell, after drinking the poison in Peter Pan, this positive spirit seems to raise Harry from the dead, providing the impetus needed to cross the finish line alive and in one piece.  The finale is filled with wizard battle sequences, where even Ron’s mother gets into the action, actually calling Bellatrix a bitch before finishing her off with surprising gusto, but bodies line the grounds afterwards, the inevitable price of war.  The aftermath (19 years later) is surprisingly sentimental and a bit lame, suggesting all things end back at the beginning where a new group of wizards has the chance to do it all over again.  One of the fundamental disappointments of the finale was the near absent use of Hermione, a post feminist force, Muggle-born, yet considered the most ingenious young wizard in the art of potions, still relegated to the background through most of the final installment along with Ron, though holding hands at the end.  Their picture of domestic bliss is more laughable than believable, like something out of the Silent era films 100 years earlier.   

In reflecting on the entire series, the cinema itself has not been that outstanding or revelatory, hardly what one would call masterpieces, where only Alfonso Cuarón in PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004) seemed to be having fun expanding the artistic palette of such a dark and mysterious world, creating a bleaker look, subjecting the audience to deeper terrors, not afraid to delve into the horror genre.  The casting has been particularly ingenious, allowing walk on opportunities for some of Britain’s finest actors, bringing their theatrical exaggeration into a children’s realm, as these characters will be forever etched into people’s minds and imaginations for generations, as the success of Harry Potter in books and the movies easily make it the most influential children’s saga in history, having far reaching effects on the benefits of children having an imaginary world that they can continue to explore well into adulthood, where unlike Peter Pan, they can bring much of the charm and magic with them as they grow up.  The real standouts in the series are the initial casting of the three friends, as we all watched them grow up and took a decided interest in their real lives as well, as they seem like genuinely good hearted and well-balanced kids where we can only hope for the best, though Daniel Radcliffe as Harry seems bound and determined to build a career outside this series, while the always beautiful Emma Watson as Hermione Granger is already a tabloid sensation, but may find it harder to break away from her brilliant, overly studious character. 

Alan Rickman, the sinister man in black, made Professor Snape’s malicious character deliciously humorous, conniving, always overly critical yet intriguing, but also complicated, as he divided his allegiance between the darkness and the light in order to survive the enveloping madness surrounding him.  Dumbledore, as written, is the heart of the magical end of the story, divided by two actors due to the premature death of Richard Harris, handing over the duties to the less flamboyant Michael Gambon.  The Hogwarts professors are an eccentric lot, but Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid is easily the most lovable, the devoted giant who brought Harry into the wizard world, letting him know how special he was, something every child needs to hear, while of the eccentric friends, no one comes close to the offbeat humor and charm of Evanna Lynch as Luna, a girl who always turned up in strange places where her friendship and loyalty to Harry was unmatched.  Julie Walters as the adoring mother of the Weasley clan couldn’t have been more lovingly affectionate.  On the dark side, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix proves once again that not only is she a brilliant actress, but her flair for the character enriched everyone else’s part, almost always upstaging Ralph Fiennes as You Know Who, or He Who Must Not Be Named.  As for the animated characters, Dobby was simply a wonderful expression of kind-hearted sadness, whose moment of freedom was nothing less than sensational.  Perhaps the lamest CGI creation was the completely uninspired Grawp, Hagrid’s dimwitted brother in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007), while the most artistically inspired moment in the entire series was the surprisingly original animated puppet play explaining the origin of the Deathly Hallows in PT. 1 (2010).  In the end, however, it’s the inventiveness of J.K. Rowling’s original creation that will stand the test of time, as she invented this strange and fabulous world filled with lovable characters who are forced to stand up to the dark forces, often at their own peril.  It’s not often you can grow up with a movie series that takes you through an entire decade of growth development, but this is one of the real successes of the movies, the audience’s identification with the characters as if their lives actually mattered, because for so many kids, they do.  That is the sign of exquisite writing, where the unforgettable, magical world they live in, with all the attention to detail, will likely live in our collective imaginations our entire lives.   

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