By Richard von Busack
The result of an expositionus awkwardus spell, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 follows up last years hit with a rapid wrap up. It really presumes you just left the first movie and walked into this one.
The first confused images—viper-visaged Voldemort blasting the heavens with a wand—doesn’t refresh our memory. The wand is one of the Deathly Hallows, a semi-legendary artifact that makes one the most powerful wizard in the world. But it has its own rules, this wand, and that’s what we needed a memory-refresher about. In this cluttered, confusing finale, the regulars (Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) get shifted off to the wings as the stage fills. Previously minor figures like Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) move to the forefront. Longbottom isn’t much of a character—he’s there to represent the Plain People of the Audience. He’s meant as muggles appeal.
Still, despite the plot tangling the cast’s feet, the film is a fast-paced adventure that strikes the sets with finality. You don’t feel like a lot of redundancy has been built in; it’s bewildering, but it isn’t boring. It staggers fast.
The plot starts in mid end-game. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), now a sturdy, bland young man, must go solo against the Noseless One, and the last stand is at the school itself. The 3-D frame-breakers work well, such as an abused albino dragon snapping its head out of the screen. It’s the other aspect of 3-D that is more impressive: a careworn Maggie Smith’s eyes looking as deep-set as the Grand Canyon. I liked the way Smith represses a tremble, making the shudder in her voice sound like the weight of authority shifting itself. She refuses to hide behind euphemism when it comes to Voldemort: “He has a name.” He has a bit more of a face than he had before. Sickened by the loss of most of his soul, Ralph Fiennes’ V. looks like a poisoned, bleached ape. He’s in a mood; he tends to kill people who ask how he’s feeling. Voldemort leads the armies of the night against the school; fire tracers from their wands, and the slow arc of the flares are like one of the key moments in English film: the volley of arrows in Olivier’s Henry V.
The 3-D technique also adds a sense of the oversized to the eyes of a blue, beautiful, and temperamental ghost named Helena (Kelly Macdonald). Her mood swings are startling—she jumps at you if she’s offended.
But the film’s real chill comes from Evanna Lynch. Luna Lovegood’s nerveless, dead-even voice is seriously uncanny; there’s a reason why Lynch was chosen to deliver the first line in the film, at a seaside cottage where the wounded warriors are holed up. (Note the doom Lynch’s voice as she examines a wind chime: “Muggles think this will protect them from evil. It won’t.”) Pity they couldn’t do more with her; she’s practically a spear-carrier in this opera.
So what of our lovely Snape? One hump short of Richard III, Alan Rickman rolls every syllable as if it were Sisyphus’ rock. Dyed, swollen by age, and black-caped, Rickman resembles an evil Oscar Wilde. This last film should have been Snape’s crescendo, far more than his revelation at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.
Will at last rise up in defiance? Nope. The reveal of a tender heart under the supercilious hide is all we get. (And the whole confusing business of the Dumbledore family drama has to be thrown in for the cast to stumble over.)
It’s a nocturnal film. So director David Yates is at his best borrowing from Fritz Lang: the cloaked scholars in formation in the courtyard, three figures in silhouette meeting on a staircase top, murmuring, with one ear open for the supernatural police.
The downside of all these visionary effects is the familiar claustrophobia from lack of natural light. Even the seaside skies at daytime look wrapped in fiberglass. The tidy, strangely low-key epilogue serves its own purpose. The religious cranks who said the Potter films failed to endorse the traditional family will get some satisfaction at the ending, which returns this wartime horror story to the kid-friendly place where it began.