It’s…over? After 10 years, eight films, and 1179 minutes (not to mention the books!), the Harry Potter series has finally come to its end. To be honest, I feel a lingering disbelief, an unwillingness to recognize that after such a span—literally years of anticipation—the last credits have finally rolled.
But talk about going out with a bang! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 lived up to every high expectation I had for it.
Let me be clear about my perspective up front: I have not read the book since the summer it came out, save for a handful of favorite passages. Also, given that the movies were what got me interested in the books, I have never been dissatisfied with the films because they deviated from the text. I am not judging this installment on how close an adaptation it was to Rowling’s pages, although, that being said, I didn’t see any glaring omissions or changes of major plot points. (My only real complaint at all, actually, is the handling of the Elder Wand at the end…we don’t see Harry remake his old wand, which annoyed me because Harry is like the Dude about his wand: all the Dude ever wanted was his rug back, and all Harry ever wanted was his wand back.) Otherwise, the events as portrayed here lined up pretty well with what I remember happening—but, again, it’s been several years, and the only thing I was truly concerned about was how Snape’s story was going to be handled, so I might be much more forgiving on those points than some.
First of all, I owe David Yates an apology. I have hated on him for four years now because I didn’t like the final edits of movies five and six—for me they were too rushed and choppy and seemed put together as a string of plot points with almost no emotional development or mood establishment. I was skeptical of the decision to split the seventh book into two films, thinking it was just a money grab, but having seen both halves I applaud the choice to give the final chapter of Harry’s story the time it deserved…and doing so also proved me wrong about Yates’ direction. The problem in the other films was the time constraint he had to work within, and with that out of the way here we got breathtaking action, beautiful emotional moments, and almost all of the little fan moments that did not have to be there, but which made the film all the more satisfying for being there. It was all packaged together seamlessly. Everything looked good—the sets, the filming, the effects—and while the story never lingered anywhere long enough to drag or feel mired down, it also never felt rushed. The length was exactly what it needed to be to tell the whole story at the perfect pace.
So with all that background out of the way, let’s get to the specifics of the film at hand.
When 7-1 came to its close, we were left with mere days remaining in the story. Harry has finally learned the secret of the Deathly Hallows, how to destroy the Horcruxes, and where at least one more Horcrux can be found. All that is left to do is go and grab it, and then head back to Hogwarts for the last one…which triggers the final showdown between Voldemort & Pals and Everyone Else.
The structure for this last act of the series provides quite a dip and swell between rising tension, explosive action, and emotional aftermath that repeats a good three or four times throughout the course of the movie. For me the escape on the dragon was flat—there could be no doubt even for those who didn’t read the books, having seen the chains and scoring on the beast’s neck and Hermione’s reaction (“That’s barbaric”), that it would be set free, and the size of the dragon meant it was never going to fail to reach the open skies once it was unchained. Although the dragon itself? Totally awesome. Great look to it, clearly a different species from the tournament dragons but not so different it seemed from a separate ancestry.
The rest of the action sequences, however, were tight and anxious, especially Draco’s desperate climb in the burning Room of Requirement and Ron and Hermione’s flight from Nagini. Even knowing it is Neville “That’s Right, Ladies, I Drew the Sword of Gryffindor” Longbottom who takes out the snake, I was breathless during that scene waiting for him to pick up the sword again, worried they would not make it out without a bite. Making someone who has read the book afraid for two of the main characters who I knew escaped harm due to the intensity of the moment is a triumph. I tip my hat to you, sir.
Speaking of Ron and Hermione—their long awaited kiss! The kiss that has been building up for five movies now, ever since the tournament…it was brilliant. Unexpected (except that I knew it was coming somewhere) and yet so natural in that moment. And it was allowed to go for a good five seconds, which is not exactly visual chump change given that there was nothing else on screen to look at except the two of them entwined. Lovely. Worth the wait (unlike Harry and Ginny’s kiss here, which lacked the immediacy of Ron and Hermione’s in terms of emotion and in terms of in-scene tension).
Also worth the wait? The final revelation of Snape. His story was everything I wanted it to be.
I cannot stress to you how important that sequence was to me. Seriously, I can’t. It is my favorite chapter in the final book, and one of the only parts of it I’ve re-read, and one of my favorite elements of the entire series. Going into tonight, I was really concerned about how his history would be shown, given the short shrift his “worst memory” sequence got in the fifth movie. I am happy to report that did not happen here. We got to watch the sad tableau of Snape’s friendship with and loss of the one woman he ever loved. The scenes from adulthood relied upon a beautiful performance from Alan Rickman—he sold the tragedy of Snape’s life, his emotional torment when the one person he loved more than his ambition was threatened, his utter destruction when she was killed. I cried. And I got my line, my favorite line of the whole damn series and one that makes me tear up every time I remember it: “After all this time, Severus?” “Always.” Oh, it was beautiful. I’m crying again just thinking about it. I just love that story, and I love Alan Rickman as Snape. That part could not have been cast better, and I’m so glad that Snape’s story turned out to be up to Rickman’s caliber.
The two parts of the battle at Hogwarts also had the time and scope they deserved. It felt epic, and we got to follow several different characters and see how the fights progressed. Molly Weasley got her moment at the end, and it was one the entire audience literally got quieter and sat up straighter for, “come on, come on, say it, SAY IT!” and then she did, and we cheered. It was that kind of moment. When Neville swung that sword like a hammer of god, we cheered.
Oh, and Neville…Neville was brilliant in his parts here, as he is in the books. He has visibly grown into his own skin, comfortably talking about being tortured for standing up for his principles, lightheartedly playing bait for the werewolf pack, giving a speech about standing up to Voldemort because people die but life goes on that was passionate and achingly believable because of his own history and his near-miss as the Chosen One. And it was also a poignant speech to the fandom: “Harry is not gone. He is here, in our hearts.” Yes. Always.
Dame Maggie Smith as McGonnegal was my other stand-out from the minor characters this time. She shone with all the warmth, wit, and inner steel we have loved in her from the first movie, and she alone of the Hogwarts professors was given more than quick yes-they’re-still-here moments.
I know I should talk about Ron and Hermione and Harry in terms of the acting—but I don’t have much to say. I had no complaints, felt they were all pitch-perfect for the duration, and if I am more effusive in my praise of others, it is in part because their performances kept me in the moment so well that I could trust them to do their things and let me admire some of the others who stepped up more than they had (or were allowed to) in previous installments.
I did see the film in 3D, which I still do not love but I will admit: the best scene with it outweighed the take-it-or-leave-it feeling I had about it the rest of the time. That scene was the ash falling in the wake of the final battle over a hollowed-out Hogwarts lit with the warming glow of the dawning sun. That, okay, THAT visual effect was immersive and beautiful and effective at making me feel like I was standing right there in it.
As, in a way, I was, as everyone in the audience was. We’re all veterans of the war against Voldemort—this was our fight, too. This story, these movies, have been a part of our lives for a decade or longer, and to feel part of that scene there at the end was fitting on a lot of different levels. It brought home the fact that this is the end. Writing this review has helped bring that home to me. Yes…it’s over. And I’m so glad I’ve been along for the ride.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.