If you love Harry Potter (or have had recurring dreams about leaving Stanford to go to Hogwarts, imagined that o-chem was actually potions class and suspected that the owls flying over Lake Lag at night are delivering messages to wizards in the Palo Alto area) then “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II,” the final installment of a nearly decade-long cinematic journey is absolutely for you. Don’t bother going otherwise, as the movie does almost nothing to catch those unfamiliar with the series up to speed, and you’ll be left, in all likelihood, feeling confused by the barrage of information that is never fully explained.
As a whole, the movie series has been nothing more than a companion to the books, a multi-billion dollar aggregate of images and catchphrases that accompany the magical world painted by J.K. Rowling. Alone, the movies are a synopsis, an outline of only the most important events in the books, which is fine for viewers who know the series by heart, but leaves those less familiar feeling cheated out of a fully formed story. Admittedly, the filmmakers did their best given the sheer volume of information they needed to compress. I mean, come on. How were they supposed to capture the Dark Lord’s rise and fall in eight two-hour movies? At any rate, the movies are woefully lacking in the rich character development found in the books and “Deathly Hallows: Part II” is no different.
Armed with the Elder Wand — the most powerful wand ever made — Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is back, marshalling an army of giants, werewolves, spiders, evil Death Eater henchmen and all manner of dark creatures in his quest to kill Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and gain complete dominion over the magical and non-magical world. Harry and friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are the only ones who know how to destroy Voldemort and must, with a seemingly arbitrary jumble of objects and clues left to them by the late Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), find and destroy the remaining pieces of the Dark Lord’s soul before he can find and kill them. As the friends race around the countryside and, later, Hogwarts itself, the film surges toward a gripping final battle packed with emotion, magic and more eye-popping CGI than even Michael Bay would know what to do with. Questions about Harry’s past and Dumbledore’s death are answered with a series of poignant flashbacks and a dazzling performance from actor Alan Rickman, who reveals a tender side of the usually callous Severus Snape. In the end, we’re left with a satisfying sense of completion.
In an effort to emphasize the finale and destroy as much of the beloved Hogwarts school as he could in the 125 minutes that was allotted to him, director David Yates sacrifices character development for special effects, leaving us wowed by the cinematic magic but also sadly disconnected from the characters, some of whose untimely deaths were less emotionally significant than they should have been. Additionally, the relationship between Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) was left unexplained. She appeared awkwardly in a few scenes without much explanation and then disappeared, only to return in the very end as — well, I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who haven’t read the book. Most annoying, though, was the underdevelopment of Harry’s character. His transformation from childhood to adulthood, the point at which he finally comes into his own as a wizard and leader and takes charge of his own destiny, was completely ignored in the movie. The entire premise of the ending is based on the understanding that Harry has matured, but we are never shown clear evidence of this change. He is still very much the same character as he was nine years ago when he stabbed the basilisk with the sword of Gryffindor.
As a staunch Harry Potter fan, the movie was everything I expected, though not everything I wanted. Limited by time, Yates chose what was most significant to the story and did an admirable job bringing those parts together. See this movie only if you’ve read the book because “Deathly Hallows: Part II” is a well-crafted, beautifully shot film that certainly won’t be clarifying any points of confusion.