As of this writing, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the eighth highest grossing film of all time; in fact, it marks the only occasion that I actually went to the cinema to find the performance I wanted was sold out. It stands to reason that the last film in such a long and popular series would do especially well at the box office – but it also happens to be an especially strong installment; in my own opinion, the strongest. If Deathly Hallows Part 1 demonstrated the problems with splitting the final book into two parts, Part 2 helps to justify the decision. It’s tightly packed, well paced, and because there aren’t too many new things to explain, it makes far more sense within itself than Part 1 did.
The film opens with a grim image of Hogwarts surrounded by Dementors, accompanied by one of my favourite music tracks from the series: Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Lily’s Theme’. This is another film where the score is especially strong; ‘Statues’, when McGonagall brings the statues to life, is another really good one. At Shell Cottage, Mr Ollivander gives a recap of what the Deathly Hallows are in case you forgot from the last movie – though really, this makes little sense as the Hallows still don’t have much of a role despite being in the title. In fact, I don’t think anyone ever raises the possibility of Harry’s Invisibility Cloak being a Hallow.
In the early stages of the Gringotts heist, we get to see some Polyjuice acting again, as Helena Bonham Carter does a particularly fine job of playing Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix: the gestures are spot-on. The film then compensates for the lack of earlier exposition about Horcruxes, first by having Harry able to sense the cup Horcrux in the Lestranges’ vault, then by him seeing the Ravenclaw sigil in a vision following their escape. It is also established – contrary to the books – that Voldemort can sense, and is weakened by, the destruction of a Horcrux. This is one of several things in this film which has both a good and bad side: it gives Voldemort some extra vulnerability which, in Harry’s words, only serves to make him more dangerous; but on the other hand, shouldn’t Voldemort have sensed the locket being destroyed, and thus realised what Harry was doing earlier?
Once the trio get to the Hog’s Head, the film finally remembers to explain about the fragment of Sirius’s mirror, though the audience is left to assume that the trio know about Aberforth and Ariana Dumbledore from the biography they got at Bathilda’s house. Given that only frustrating fragments of Dumbledore’s big backstory were touched upon in Part 1, Part 2 doesn’t really bother with it, which is probably for the best at this point.
There’s a brief but wonderful return for the original John Williams theme when Harry steps back into Hogwarts, followed by a deviation from the book as Snape calls an assembly upon being alerted to Harry’s presence. It’s a good scene, with a tense atmosphere until Harry gets the chance to unveil himself and call Snape out personally like a classic hero. This is a moment which was probably included because it’s more satisfying – and perhaps expected – for a general movie-going audience, and it’s not the only example in the film.
The build-up to the Battle of Hogwarts is appropriately dramatic, including such moments as an acknowledgement of Seamus Finnegan tending to cause explosions in previous films rather than Neville; a shot of Fred and George together which raised a sigh of despair through the audience when I first watched this in the cinema; and a clear view of just how massive Voldemort’s army is. Unlike in the book, we then actually get to see Hermione destroying the cup with a basilisk fang (in some good attention to detail, the basilisk lies pretty much where it fell in Chamber of Secrets). The big kiss between Ron and Hermione that follows is fairly satisfying – with some classic, triumphant romantic music to accompany it – though it would have been more so, had there been more focus on the progression of their relationship. At least it’s still better than how Harry and Ginny are handled; giving Harry a kiss before he can say anything to her, Ginny says, “I know” – unfortunately, a large proportion of the audience probably don’t.
Once the battle itself kicks off, it is appropriately epic: Death Eaters and giants piling in (though no Grawp); Neville racing the Snatchers across the bridge before it is blown up; the Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement; the trio running across the battlefield as fellow good guys are cut down and enemies just keep coming. When they return to the castle after witnessing Snape’s death, the silence makes a stark contrast, and just seeing the castle in ruins is sad enough before all the dead and wounded in the Great Hall appear onscreen.
The death of Snape, unfortunately, doesn’t feel quite as significant as in the book: perhaps this is because of Snape’s limited screentime through the series as a whole, or perhaps because he’s not quite so enigmatic. The subsequent Pensieve sequence works okay, but really no better than that; while the included memories technically make sense, they are too rushed to have the emotional impact that they really merit. The sequence also includes a slightly bewildering memory of Snape actually going to the Potters’ house and tearfully cradling Lily’s body – without bothering to show whether Snape then took baby Harry away or just left him there for Hagrid.
Having Harry actually say goodbye to Ron and Hermione before he heads into the Forest would be a proper tear jerker, were it not a little spoiled by the fact that Harry only hugs Hermione, while merely sparing a meaningful look for Ron. Harry talking to the spirits of his loved ones works a little better, with a little callback to Sirius’s parting gesture in Prisoner of Azkaban; it does, however, have one of the few moments that would properly confuse non-book readers, when Harry brings up Lupin’s previously unmentioned son. Harry facing his death is just as powerful a moment as it ought to be, and the resulting scene with Dumbledore in King’s Cross looks basically perfect, though there isn’t as much for Dumbledore to explain as there is in the book.
Then, for the climax (besides making sure to include THAT line from Molly Weasley, which I was extremely eager for), the film chooses to have an actual drawn-out battle between Harry and Voldemort, which is interspersed with Ron and Hermione taking on Nagini. Again, I have mixed feelings about this: the battle almost certainly works better for film than the book’s standoff would have; it manages to be extremely intense; and it adds a dash of unpredictability for fans of the books. Likewise, Voldemort disintegrating into ash looks and feels more climactic than him simply falling down dead would have done. But having the climax play out this way does detract from the power of the book’s final confrontation, where Harry addresses Voldemort on equal terms, points out the mistakes he’s made, and demonstrates to all that Voldemort is still just a human being named Tom Riddle.
After this comes one more big change, as Harry chooses to break the Elder Wand in two rather than placing it back in Dumbledore’s grave. Perhaps this is done as a more decisive and permanent rejection of the power it offers, but I was displeased that we didn’t get to see Harry repairing and reclaiming his old wand – it’s not like that wand getting broken was cut from Part 1. However, I do like the subsequent shot of Harry, Ron and Hermione standing together on the bridge, hopeful music playing in the background, as the sun rises and sweeps away the gloomy colour filter of the last few films. The epilogue chooses its music perfectly: John Williams’ ‘Leaving Hogwarts’ track that closed off the first two movies – and they even throw in a Chocolate Frog on the carriage window. I only wish that the filmmakers had had the resolve to add the words ‘The End’ when it faded to black.
If I’ve still created the impression of complaining a lot about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, it’s really just nitpicking. It’s generally very faithful to the book, and most of the changes that are made have a neutral or positive impact. Much like its source material, it hits the right buttons and successfully makes emotions run high. This is still definitely the Harry Potter film I enjoyed watching the most.
Rating as a film: 4.5/5.
Rating as an adaptation: 4.5/5.