In case last week’s posts didn’t tip you off, I’m a Harry Potter dork… I know the difference between Stupefy and Petrificus Totalus, I know about minor Quidditch rules like cobbing, and I know the plot points of the seventh book, as with all the books, pretty well. Since director David Yates’ last two Potter films were meticulously faithful to Rowlings’ story, I went into the movie expecting few surprises.
But I was surprised, though the movie’s plot follows the book’s point for point: I was surprised how much I liked the protagonists. Somewhere over the years, slowly and incrementally, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) have turned from cutesy child stars into bona fide actors. Their chemistry, which the film’s leisurely pace fully develops, gives the trio humanity, wit and pathos that they hadn’t shown before.
In one scene, a depressed Harry and Hermione, after being abandoned by Ron, engage in a slow, lazy dance that quickly becomes an exercise in silliness. It’s a wonderful moment, one that manages to capture both their despair and their increasing dependence on each other; it’s sweet and, since neither is a great dancer, pretty funny. Comparing the authentic humor in this scene with the little-kids-making-funny-faces-when-they-blow-things-up variety of Harry Potter I: Home Alone in Hogwarts just shows how far the series has come.
It’s a good things these characters are fun to watch, because the tone of the film is pretty bleak. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has taken control of the world, basically, and turned it into the wizarding version of the Third Reich. From the very beginning, the good guys are on the run, always one step ahead of the various thugs, monsters and monster-thugs that want their hides. It’s a lot of build-up without release, and mostly the only thing Harry & Co accomplish is not getting horribly murdered (mostly). But then, release is what the finale is for.
As much as Yates is willing to linger on our heroic trio, he doesn’t feel like spending a nanosecond reviewing plot points covered in the previous films. So take this mental quiz, and if you hesitate, do some studying before heading to the theater.
1. What are Horcruxes and why are they important? Which ones have been destroyed already?
2. How do wizards teleport around and how come it doesn’t work all the time?
3. Who’s that red-headed girl Harry randomly makes out with in one scene? (hint: Ron’s sister)
Still, I can’t fault Yates for assuming viewers will keep up. It allows him to focus on character and tone to an unprecedented degree and to juggle various complex stories; remember that in addition to explaining Harry’s quest, Hallows is also the story of young Dumbledore and, you know, the Deathly Hallows. Somehow, Yates introduces all of these elements without overwhelming the audience with exposition, and I think the leisurely two-movie format is to thank. There’s a lot to take in, but there’s also time for sexual tension and chase scenes and some very welcome stillness.
While certainly the worst entry-point for viewers unfamiliar to the Potterverse, Deathly Hallows is possibly the strongest film yet, a gorgeously filmed, strongly acted epic that adds gravity and humanity to the series. But so far it’s all potential energy…let’s hope the final installment can convert it into catharsis and adrenaline rush.