The Hogwarts Quidditch pitch dwindles in flames. Death Eaters mercilessly attack students with hexes and killing curses in the blazing courtyard. Stone soldiers battle giant trolls whilst fending off a huge army of bloodthirsty wizards. Harry Potter, our haggard hero, watches in horror as his beloved school crumbles around him, coming to the realisation that he must sacrifice his own life to save countless others from the wrath of Lord Voldemort.
One of the many heart-pounding sequences this final installment has up its sleeve, the Battle of Hogwarts stands as a perfect exemplar of this eighth outing for these beloved characters; bracing, grandiose and showstopping. Capping off not only a faithful two-part conclusion to the story but a monumentally lucrative, if a little uneven, franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) breaks away from the episodic structure of previous chapters and ups the narrative ante, submerging us straight back into the action and delivering perhaps the most emotionally satisfying adaptation yet.
Whereas part one was a slower, contemplative precursor, this atmospheric posture is quickly jettisoned in favour of a more hurried, plot-orientated tempo as Harry, Ron and Hermione scour various locations in search of Voldemort’s four remaining Horcruxes, the destruction of which will aid in their quest to end his impending domination of the wizarding world.
What each of the films continued to achieve, after the Chris Columbus-helmed Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Chamber of Secrets (2002), was distancing themselves from the childishness of J.K. Rowling’s prose, with each progressive chapter maintaining a darkness rarely found in child-friendly films of their magnitude. Part 2, the darkest edition yet, deals with the protagonist’s recognition of death and coming to terms with the choices they must make if they wish to survive the looming onslaught, and Yates, perhaps for the first time in his fourth outing as director, manages to deftly balance the intimacies of the source material with some truly majestic set pieces, which make every action sequence seen prior look tame and mere indicators for what’s to come. The fans deserved a proper send off, and Yates rarely disappoints, making full use of the 130 minute run time, which coincidentally makes this the shortest film in the franchise, though it is never as much as a hindrance as it was for the anemic Order of the Phoenix (2007).
Testament to their dedication to the canon, the cream of the British acting crop, who have put faces to names for the past ten years embodying the little-seen supporting characters, are sportively sidelined and given a mere handful of shots and dialogue lines to shine.
Emma Thompson’s Trelawney, Jim Broadbent’s Slughorn, Miriam Margolyes’s Sprout and Warwick Davis’s Flitwick are all present and correct in blink and you’ll miss them roles, but its Maggie Smith, who always brought a warmth to the icy Professor McGonagall, despite being undeserved in later chapters, almost steals the film in her moment of glory, displaying some agile wandplay and spouting the funniest line of the film. Similarly, Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape finally emerges from his suppressed, impenetrable binds and helps to flesh out one of the more sentimental, cathartic and heartbreaking chapters of the book, finally proving that his is a character whose continued nuance was never forgotten about.
Though the film surges along with such invigoratingly breakneck urgency, smaller, more intimate portions of the novel are glossed over or shrugged off entirely, leaving only slight room for disappointment. Spotting missing components has always been part and parcel to the way each previous installment has been received by die hard fans, and though these two final portions have been dedicated to including as much plot as possible, several elements continue to rely on a familiarization with the text, which could leave newcomers occasionally baffled.
Furthermore, fan favourite moments seem rushed, for example the scene where Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) unleashes the full brunt of her fury on Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) feels fleeting and underdone, buckling under the weight of the films’ proclivity to pleasing as much as possible. The prologue is equally hasty and malnourished, desperate for the multiple-ending style of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
Combined with Alexandre Desplat’s all-encompassing score, which not only invokes preceding composers Nicholas Hooper and indeed John Williams (“Hedwig’s Theme” is restored beautifully), but also manages to accentuate the film with a haunting and equally bombastic audio palette, David Yates finally gives us the Harry Potter film we have been waiting for; a beautifully shot, incredibly loyal final chapter that mixes heartfelt emotion, strong performances and miraculous action, and does so in just the right order to ensure this fitting finale goes out on both a bang and a whimper.