Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows Part 2

Perhaps the best thing that can be said for this final installment in the 8-part franchise is that the story is finally over. Dragged on to the point now where it's already old news that the main actors are appearing nude in arty Broadway productions and being taunted on Saturday Night Live dirty skits, the actors are a bit long-in-the-tooth to still be playing high-school seniors, the mysteries set up ages ago have long faded into memory, and the main feeling one gets from this close of the final chapter is, well, relief.

This final installment is naturally more dark - and more violent - than any that have come before. Not a few students meet their makers and the epic battle between dark and light takes places unflinchingly. As a parable for World War Two (with Voldemort as a kind of Hitleresque figure come to seduce, divide, and conquer the weaker minds of an English prep school), the story delivers a satisfying final confrontation, including a scene where Harry must kill the Voldemort within himself in order to truly defeat evil.

The wizardry behind the special effects are particularly superb in this final chapter. Teachers at Hogwarts, beseaged by leagues of Voldemort's evil-doers, erect a kind of defense force field that has all the charm of fairy dust combined with the power of a Star Trek force field - an appropriate type of white magic that gives the assorted pupils and instructors the precious minutes they need to prepare for battle once Voldemort discovers that Harry is on the grounds. Meanwhile, Harry and friends hunt for the final horcrux where Voldemort has stashed a piece of his soul, wands flash red and white in the ensuing battle, and the familiar school is laid waste as the scene of tremendous explosions and bloodshed. Key to the story, as well, is the revelation of Snape's heretofore unrevealed relationship to Harry, and his true allegiences, as well as the sacrifices all of the adults made in an earlier war in order to keep Harry safe and give him this time and place in the spotlight.

Some may evaluate this then as the best of the Harry Potter lot and it certainly does wrap everything up that one would wish to see summed, zapped, or otherwise disposed of. For me, despite the tremendous effects and satisfaction of denoument, it lacks the artistry of Part 1 (particularly the Deathly Hollows story, which gets rather ignored here in favor of the action scenes). I also miss the tonal tension of the mid-story movies - say Goblet of Fire, with the fun Twiwizard tournament, which may be the best in the series. Those earlier stories got the balance right between serious menace and the structured safety of preparatory school. This final Potter feels simply like all-out war. Effective, to be sure, but also preposterous, no longer a metaphor for high school but story grown a bit too epic for the likes of Hogwarts.

Also, as the story races to tie up characters, relatives, in-laws, and friends, one feels as if there is both too little time being spent and way too much. Some characters rush past - if you haven't read the books, as I haven't, their mention has little import - while others, like Snape, have their stories revealed in an over-edited blur. In final review, with the last four movies all exploring the same Horcrux-based wild goose chase (and all having, basically, the same extended plot), this series could have used way fewer side characters and a couple less feature films. But then I supposed it wouldn't have made as many billions as it has.

If you've made it through the first seven films, there's no doubt you need to see the series reach its final conclusion. What began as a magic-based metaphor for the eternal rituals of secondary school has grown, like a sparrow affected by one of those enlargement spells, into a Manichean epic importing the spectre of fascism and war. Spectacular as it is, this story has gone on just a little bit too long for us to really care.

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