Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: All of the spectacle, none of the magic

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I was 8 when I was given my first Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Initially I dismissed it – reading was to me something that people did a long time ago when television wasn’t as good. I was eventually convinced to give it a try, and became engrossed after just a few pages. I whipped through the book and the previous two in the series, and then waited impatiently for each future instalment. Harry Potter had a profound impact on my childhood because it made me realise the joy of reading. They’re inspiring stories with a detailed world you want to explore and revisit, with fantastical elements as well as things you can instantly relate to as a child. It’s impossible not to be swept up excitedly along with the stories. The film adaptations have never held that same sense of adventure. Far from being memorable, they’ve seemed increasingly little more than CGI-laden processions with the story playing a definite second fiddle to the action, and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 is no exception to this.

That is not to say it’s a particularly bad film, but it does feel soulless. The two and a half hour runtime zips by, but at the end of it there is nothing that stays with you once you’ve left the cinema. The story picks up immediately from the last film, with Harry on the search for the remaining shards of Voldemort’s soul known as horcruxes while trying to avoid his clutches. Despite seeming like a cynical ploy for more money initially, the decision to cut the film in two was sensible as it allows the epic battle at Hogwarts the time on screen it deserves without it completely overshadowing the story. The same cannot be said for the 3D effects, which seem to exist purely to add three pounds to ticket prices. Compared to a normal film the picture feels so flat; the 3D gives the impression of a series of 2D planes that the different actors are positioned in, akin to a pop-out book.

The special effects all look fantastic, with stone soldiers coming to life only to be shattered minutes later and spells raining down across the landscape, but this is something that is becoming standard. Franchises like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean routinely churn out films with great looking effects and little else, and there’s a feeling that Harry Potter should really be offering something more. And here it falls down. The story is completely incomprehensible to anyone who has not read the books because it tries to skip around every written event without having the time to focus on any, as if ticking off a checklist rather than telling a story. The director David Yates seems to want to take creative control at certain points and all put excises some narrative strands only to falter at the last moment and include them seemingly as an afterthought. This happens several times but nowhere is it more apparent than at the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. After not mentioning the crucial way in which the power shifts from one to the other in the battle he instead includes it as an awkward expository dump afterwards in such a way that serves to only detract from the scene. By repeatedly doing this he not only makes the story impenetrable to anyone who isn’t aware of what is supposed to be happening, but to those who are he takes away strong elements of the story that held meaning and depth and serves up a flimsy replica that doesn’t have any of same gravitas.

With a cast of acting heavyweights including Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes you expect the performances to be first-rate, and from most of the older cast it is definitely enjoyable watching them rip up the scenery together. The standout moment though comes, in a rare poignant moment for the film, not from one of the established cast but one of the younger stars. Matthew Lewis, playing Neville Longbottom, gives a defiant speech packed with emotion that really resonates with the audience. One of the biggest ironies in the books is that either Neville or Harry could have been the main character, but Harry was selected for destruction by Voldemort and thus was marked as his equal. It’s an irony that the films mirror – if the lead actor was of the calibre of Matthew Lewis instead of Daniel Radcliffe, things could have turned out very differently.

Throughout premiere interviews many of the cast and crew made the point that a work without an audience is nothing. I disagree. A work that has no impact on its audience is nothing. I’m struggling to work out who this film would have an impact on. With an indecipherable story it is no replacement for the books. With an emphasis on explosions over plot it is no fitting nostalgic revisit to the stories for all but the least imaginative readers. I guess that in the future children as wary of books as I once was may watch these films and become intrigued enough to seek out the original stories and discover the magic for themselves. If that happens, then perhaps they do have a place.

28 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: All of the spectacle, none of the magic

  1. Congratulations on being the only reviewer so far to give a negative. I wouldn’t care but your reasoning is just stupid. Almost every other review mentioned how fantastic and emotional the scenes were with Alan Rickman – seemed to forget that did you?

    You know giving a Potter film a bad review doesn’t automatically make you a reliable critic…

    Oh and to help you out. The film would have an impact on the millions of fans and every other critic who has given a positive review so far (and not lukewarm, 4 or 5 stars).

  2. “Far from being memorable, they’ve seemed increasingly little more than CGI-laden processions with the story playing a definite second fiddle to the action”

    Umm other than this film, there is not much action in the Harry Potter films and where negative or positive reviews they have all been commended for the characters and emotional aspect. Also you gave a Transformers film 3 stars? and yet complain about too much cgi in this film? Right…

  3. Rofl

    every other critic (even ‘haters’) have said this is the best Potter film and given it great reviews. You are the only one to give it a bad review. I would take it seriously if you focused on the problems the good reviews mentioned, but you are complaining about things that were either not mentioned, or top critics praised????

  4. @ Derek can I just say that I myself wrote the Transformers review, not Jonathan and as much as I hated to give it 3 stars I ultimately thought it deserved it and in writing my review tried to explain my reasoning in terms other than ‘this is what the general consensus in other reviews is’. I didn’t talk with Jonathan between these two reviews and our views on CGI may be different but it’s not like our review team sits down and averages out their views on everything we are going to see on screen.

    Each review is personal and accurate to that persons experience. It’s fair enough to counter their opinion but can you at least debate what you think we as reviewers need to reappraise before simply pointing to the work of other reviewers. Don’t just say we are wrong, I’d request that you say why you think we are wrong.

  5. Sorry but on more than 60 professional reviews out, it’s the first who said too much cgi and gave a bad critic… and his review make simply no sense and the reviewer writed like he never saw this film and simply hate the Harry Potter saga!

  6. I don’t agree with his appraisal of the past few films as I very much liked them (The Prisoner of Azkaban being the highlight) but I think the review does make sense and Jonathan has obviously seen the film. It’s a film review and he has given his opinion. I realise as you are mostly from a Harry Potter fan forum that you are going to take against it but it is what it is.

  7. http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=17958&s=Reviews

    http://www.heyuguys.co.uk/2011/07/07/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-part-two-review/

    The first couple of pages of results brings up dissenting reviews, so it’s hardly as though Jonny’s spitting on the grave of Vito Corleone here. Anyway, the Internet is flooded with Potter fanatics who would give a film five stars if it consisted of two hours of Harry reading out the phone book. Just look at the stampede of incoherent sobbing and screaming that result whenever someone dares to suggest that maybe HP and friends aren’t all that…

  8. lmao @this review

    This is going to be the best potter. From what Ive seen it is truly epic. One negative review out of 60 lol….. Have fun. Youll be here writing sucky “reviews” while the rest of the world will be enjoying the epic finale 😉

  9. @Ross Sorry, I didn’t realise it was a different reviewer. To be fair I read it through and it is a well thought out and fair review.

    @Rebecca I totally understand that the fandom can be just as bad as those who hate Harry Potter. However, even those who have expressed disliking of the series up to this point have grudgingly admitted it is a good film. Not just a good Harry Potter film. So yeah I can understand that opinion for the other films, but so far almost every single review for this final instalment been resoundingly positive. I could understand mixed but 2 out of 5 stars?

  10. Sorry, you didn’t enjoy it. That really sucks for you.

    I find it intriguing that your opinions on certain aspects of the film, the CG and the acting, are so different from that of almost every review I have read. In the end, this film will be accepted as a good film more than seen as a 2/5.

    “Throughout premiere interviews many of the cast and crew made the point that a work without an audience is nothing. I disagree. A work that has no impact on its audience is nothing. I’m struggling to work out who this film would have an impact on. With an indecipherable story it is no replacement for the books. With an emphasis on explosions over plot it is no fitting nostalgic revisit to the stories for all but the least imaginative readers. I guess that in the future children as wary of books as I once was may watch these films and become intrigued enough to seek out the original stories and discover the magic for themselves. If that happens, then perhaps they do have a place.”

    This film will have an impact of many millions of people of all ages from all over the world. Movies are not meant to be a replacement for books. This is an adaptation of the book and it was approved by J.K. Rowling. If it is good enough for her then it is good enough for me. I really hope in viewing it again you find the nostalgic moments you said you missed. I have read plenty of reviews that have stated these kinds of moments were wonderfully executed.

    @Rebeccca The internet is also full of HP fanatics who appreciate good film and would be quite disappointed if all they got for their money was what you described. Maybe don’t be so quick to lump so many fans into one category.

  11. Really? I bet you’re a die hard Twishit fan, man. I bet Part 2 is going to be one of the highest grossing movies ever beating that horrible film Transformers and Twishit. The only reason why you wrote this review is because you’re a jealous piece of shit with no life. Oxford Student…. Yeah right! You fail. Avada Kedavra!

  12. Thanks Derek and Log for the more mature responses to the review and our comments. The film team at the Oxford Student has definitely felt the full force of Harry Potter messageboards today. Some responses are of more merit than others. On another not entirely unrelated note I’m not sure if Voldemort’s Avada Kedavra worked. Maybe a muggle style DDoS attack would have served your purposes better…

  13. What has the world come to when every review has to be objectively measured against the ‘general’ (overwhelming) consensus and must ensure it conforms to the positive view of everyone else who reviewed it? Put back your pitchforks, HP mob. I think most of you misunderstand the concept of a ‘review’ or any opinion that doesn’t agree with your own views.

    Half of these inane, threatening and ad honimem comments towards the reviewer make me want to gouge out my own eyes. Most of the mob didn’t actually come to read the review but to justify why the movie, which they haven’t yet seen, is the greatest movie of all time – which probably stems from the fact that they’ve watched few films. I fear for the day most of you are faced with constructing something that approaches ‘independent thought’ yourselves.

    As for the review, I can understand why the film may feel souless or lacking in the emotional drive of the books at times but I’m glad with some of the decisions they’ve taken, particularly with Neville. This enhanced my appreciation of the story as a whole despite not even being in the book. I would disagree that it was a 2/5, would have given it slightly more but that is more a failing of the rating system. I think the positive aspects of Part 2 outweigh the negatives. Despite the obvious detractions (which were more powerful in the books), it felt like they did a real service to the final battle with strong special effects, set pieces and performances all round. The failing may be that there was so much action in it that they didn’t have the time to properly develop the emotional drive or make it comprehensible to the average viewer. Still, it’s not entirely a surprise given previous Harry Potter films and their respective failings. It has managed to surpass the previous films in the franchise and do so well enough for the franchise as a whole. In that sense, I felt it was a fitting conclusion.

  14. I thought that Part 1 was far better. More humour, more irony, more shades of light and dark, more poignancy, and far more of a human angle. In part II we simply went through the motions, one impressive special effect at a time. For me No. 7, Part I was the only true triumph of the Harry Potter films.

  15. I agree with you completely. I felt like the movie lacked soul; I walked away from it feeling like something was missing. I applaud you for having the courage to give it a negative review (and I am really shocked by the pitchfork-waving HP fans on here) . . .

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