As half-films go, David Yates’ HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, FILM 8: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET VOLDEMORT lurches from scene to setpiece like it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s awkwardly effortful performance. Every phrase of dialogue between Harry and Griphook the Goblin. No matter how connected. Is perforated by so much gravitas the whole thing collapses in on itself like an unpracticed spell. Luckily we’re almost immediately watching Helena Bonham Carter’s hilarious Hermione seek Nazi gold deep in some glorious vault of a Swiss bank housing all the danger and splendor of JK Rowling’s imagination, the fantasy elements dependably invigorating the film. There’s not much there, if you catch my meaning, but for a series that prides itself on hard-won morality tales (e.g. the Cedric Diggory lesson) despite its black/white morality, any complexity is a step forward, and the World War II overtones, however cheap, at least introduce some gray between the happy, decent good guys and the racist authoritarian bad guys.
There are three instances of life-saving compassion in this overextended mess, which according to Strunk and White qualifies as a theme. Too bad the only one that penetrated my black heart was Hermione saving the poor, abused dragon (presumably put down by authorities for approaching humans for food in Hyde Park shortly thereafter), though, to be fair, I could not understand what was going on when Narcissa Malfoy asked Harry about Draco’s well-being, so maybe that would have hit me, too. Either way, it seems the essential act of the film, Harry’s maturation, and this whole Jesus thing is Harry risking his life to save Draco, but as soon as he does, we’re off to the next scene like there’s a war going on or something. No gravity, no weight. Dumbledore’s not-just-fallibility-but-literally-insane-arrogance is also glossed over. Instead Yates emphasizes, well, nothing, if all those offscreen deaths of wasted-for-the-last-time British actors are any indication. Everything in the film is equally rushed, including Dumbledore in Wizard Heaven and Snape’s Memories of Inelegant Exposition, however hard those pieces struggle to earn our emotions. When plot is the entire point, pacing this fast not only elides theme but prevents us from marveling at the spectacular architecture of Rowling’s story, the better to disguise its perfunctory capstones. It also brings us to murky/idiotic plot points chained to Rowling’s skeleton: Voldemort makes such a big deal of Elder Wand protocol, determining that Snape killed Dumbledore for the wand and so he needs to kill Snape, and then he leaves it to his snake? Clearly someone’s having trouble landing this thing.
What Yates does well is direct action, which is a relief since this whole thing is action, despite inexplicable pauses in battle (readers will remember that the reason the Death Eaters let the good guys recoup overnight is that there was a fleeting half-off groupon to the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA). The fortification sequence, as our heroes man every corner of the wall surrounding Helm’s Deep, is one memorable visual after another, each an illustration of how powerfully united yet overextended they are. Yates’ fluid camerawork establishes geography throughout the melee, which alone makes this the most coherent blockbuster of the year—pull quote!—and his chess board climax where all the pieces must get into place at the same moment approaches symphony. Ron and Hermione shrink to make room for all the returning faces so that even our second leads end up with as little to do as Robbie “Oh Yeah” Coltrane, but Maggie Smith finally gets a scene worthy of her casting. Neville also gets an awfully big moment (or two) for someone whose relevance to the films so far is putting Alan Rickman in an old lady suit, but at least fans grok his significance, and Matthew Lewis makes a dashing young hero. Besides, it’s not Yates’ fault that Neville hasn’t been properly established. This isn’t even a whole film.
P.S. After ten years of dorky Brits ejaculating at each other through their sticks, bad age makeup is what provokes the laughter of the self-conscious masses? Nice to know where we’re drawing that line. The Albus Severus sentimentality deserves an eye-roll and nobody seems too concerned that prejudice has swung the other way, but what has this decade been about if not little kids pretending to be grown-ups?
- – -
Brandon Nowalk writes about film and television for the Maroon Weekly in College Station, TX and at his blog But What She Said and Twitter @bnowalk. His favorite films beyond the usual suspects include Henry King’s The Gunfighter, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, Orson Welles’ The Trial, Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night, and David Lynch’s Inland Empire.