And lo, it did come to pass, ten years after the first film in this most juggernauty of franchises and fourteen years after the first book in the world-subduing series was published, that the final (and here we must apply the standard issue ill-advised-reboot caveat) Harry Potter movie did come to be unleashed. There’s no point at this stage attempting a precis of the general set-up – this is literally the most popular thing in the whole of popular culture, so if you don’t know by now it must be through deliberate avoidance, in which case you presumably won’t even be reading this – and the makers of the unwieldly titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 certainly don’t waste any time trying to bring any newcomers to the series up to speed. My main piece of advice if you’re thinking of seeing it is therefore: do your homework. It’s an adaptation of the second half of a knotty, plotty and continuity-heavy fantasy novel that is itself the seventh part of a complex series, and there’s no handy “previously on Harry Potter” montage at the start. I’ve actually read these books, and I saw Hallows part 1 only six months ago, and I was struggling to remember the significance and number of the various magical artefacts and the specific personality traits of the many minor characters good and evil, and a lot of the several casual references to incidents in the last film went straight over my head. I suspect most of the kids watching will be fine though.
Is it any good? Was it worth sitting through all those hours of spells, lessons, Quidditch matches and murky family history to get to this? Well, yes, I think so. For me the Potter films have been until now a classic example of the law of diminishing returns, with the spark and charm of the early ones gradually giving way to darkness and angst, and the once elegant standalone plots becoming over-complicated and offering less and less to anyone not a committed fan. Hallows part 1 in particular seemed painfully slow and melancholy, with the story becalmed for much of its running time. The new movie however reverses the trend. Stuff’s finally getting resolved here, and it’s done with some style.
As you might expect for a film adapted from the second half of a book this is a little weird structurally, starting as it does with some quiet talky scenes dealing with the aftermath of the climactic events of the previous installment. It doesn’t take long to rev up though, first with a flamboyantly executed sequence involving a bank raid (well, I say bank. It’s more like a vast subterranean wilderness really) and an impromptu dragon ride, and then a return to Hogwart’s school, which is now in the hands of the enemy. Pretty soon we’re into an extended siege reminiscent of the Helm’s Deep section of The Lord Of The Rings which affords the film-makers an opportunity to show off some impressive pyrotechnics. All of this is done with admirable pace, energy and confidence, which is a blessed relief after the seemingly endless shots of Harry, Hermione and Ron moping about in the woods in the last film.
Even more impressive than the special effects however is the effectiveness of the long-awaited reveal of the motivations of Alan Rickman’s ostensibly treacherous Snape, aka The Teacher We Love To Hate. This bit has real emotional heft, as has the subsequent passage of Harry confronting his destiny, which means that when we get to the grand finale we’re properly invested in the characters – no mean trick for a whizz-bang Summer blockbuster. Things pay off satisfactorily, and the ending isn’t shamelessly milked or over-extended, although I suspect the tacked-on epilogue won’t be for everyone. This is a strong finish for the most successful entertainment thing ever – just don’t even think about seeing it unless you’ve seen the others. Or read a cribsheet.
Footnote: Can you believe how many top-notch British thesps are in this film, even if it’s just for a few seconds? Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Kelly MacDonald, Julie Walters, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory, Michael Gambon, Miriam Margoyles, Emma Thompson…