"Look at me...you have your mother's eyes."
I'm still young enough to remember my teenage years quite clearly, and while I had to deal with calculus exams and English papers, Harry Potter has battled dragons and giant serpents, ogres and werewolves. And of course, his eternal nemesis Lord Voldemort. All the promos have been tagged with 'It All Ends,' which of course is true in more than one sense. After ten years and eight films, the boy wizard's saga is over.
In November 2001, THE SORCERER'S STONE came into theaters with little fanfare compared to the juggernaut it is now. After Steven Spielberg was (thankfully) turned down to adapt author J.K. Rowling's works (Spielberg's first and only choice for Harry was Haley Joel Osment, from THE SIXTH SENSE fame), the first film and the others that followed became a completely British affair, with practically every Briton actor known to man signing on for one role or another. Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, John Hurt, Kenneth Branagh. If you liked tea and crumpets, you were involved somehow.
And of course, the three leads. When Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) were first tagged for their respective roles, they were all 10 to 12 years old, living in obscurity. Now look at them. It's been said countless times, but the way these three have matured deserves mention at least once more. I'm not convinced that any of them will be the next big thing, but their performances have been enjoyable at the very least. Grint and Watson have always played two sides of the same coin, but just went about it in different ways. Hermione was the nerdy know-it-all; always there for the right spell, yet the one most mocked for her muggle (non-magical) parents. Ron was the goofy best friend. You could count on him more for a laugh than a correct incantation. DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I and II have offered them both a chance to stretch their wings professionally; the acts of Voldemort have made them grow up faster than their years would indicate.
Radcliffe has had the most thankless job over the years. Harry has been the "chosen one;" a living messiah who as an infant, vanquished the greatest evil known. Now he must do it again. Throughout, Radcliffe has largely avoided the monotony that could have afflicted his long-destined rendezvous. His endlessly awaited battle with Voldemort* finally comes to fruition, and although it's visually stunning, it sadly lacks the emotional punch that should have resonated.
*And thank Dumbledore the characters finally started calling "you know who" by his actual name. For the majority of the series everyone was too frightened to do so, which seemed a little ridiculous, especially when Voldemort was a wart on the back of a professor's head, or for the most part, simply an ideal.
We start off right where PART I left us. Voldemort has obtained the Elder Wand (one of three Deathly Hallows--the others being the Invisibility Cloak and the Resurrection Stone. Apparently when one has guardianship of all of them, the owner can defeat death.) from the tomb of Dumbledore. This particular wand is supposedly the most powerful one in existence. Legend has it that if he possesses this, he can finally defeat his bespectacled adversary. This film also carries over from the last, the subject of, and search for the remaining missing horcruxes: tiny pieces of Voldemort's soul that are stowed away in random objects (although why Voldemort is adamant about stashing them in highly recognizable and sought after items remains the real mystery.)
Though I've yet to read the books, judging this film as standalone, I found it clumsy at times, and a little hard to follow. Talking with friends notwithstanding, there are obvious parts--and important ones at that--that are missing, which leaves significant plot holes that equate to cavernous questions (like, what's the point of the Resurrection Stone?). Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, who is tremendous.) finally has his curious backstory divulged. We've had snippets at various points in the sequence, but here everything is finally illuminated. An immensely conflicted persona, Snape continually shifted from friend to foe; we learn the truth in the liquid pensieve. It's unfortunate how quickly we zip through these memories. Snape's history is so vital to the sprawling narrative; more care should have taken to properly convey that.
Of course, the huge payoff is the 'Battle for Hogwarts:' a climactic conflict that pitted Harry and company against the Dark Lord and his many minions. The issue I had with it (and other examples that employ this method) was how the killing of characters (and there were a lot of them) remained largely off-screen. I won't spoil who lives and who dies, but there are some of importance, and it seems to be quite a discredit to the author that we're not able to witness the coup de grâce of some of her most memorable creations.
It's undeniable the effect that the entire spectrum of these films have had on popular culture. Rowling has built an empire on what began as a simple dream about boy with a lightning bolt scar, that occurred aboard a moving train. She has not only created award-winning fiction literature, but a subculture of "Potterheads" that live and breathe every single piece of information that exudes from its pages. David Yates--the director for the last four feature accommodations--had the supremely unenviable task of pleasing the hungry masses. There is plenty to like here. The score (originated by John Williams, later commanded by Alexandre Desplat), and cinematography (Eduardo Serra) are sweeping and arresting; performances across the board are exemplary. Though at just over two hours, I got the impression that too much was squeezed in too little a time frame. I would have preferred a few more waning minutes to appropriately give these magical beings their proper send off.
The last decade has treated us to unheard of creatures and locales; the HARRY POTTER universe will certainly go down as one of the most accomplished franchises in cinematic history, that much is clear. This fantastic, wonderful world has opened the imagination to millions. But was it too much to ask for a worthier finale?