Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two (3D) ****
I haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies since the very first one, and I haven’t read the books, so I’m really not qualified to comment on this one’s context, fidelity, or attraction to the series’ gazillions of fans (I did, however, take a young person with me who had seen all the films and read all the books, so I was able to be brought up to some degree of speed, as well as get an insider’s opinion at the end). What I can do is comment on the quality of the filmmaking, which is, simply, astounding. Director David Yates has delivered the climax to the largest “closed ending” franchise of all time (the Bond movies are ongoing) without ever resorting to histrionics. Indeed, the most striking thing about the film to me – the thing that took me most pleasantly by surprise – was its restraint. Yates allows huge story moments to earn their own dramatic heft without smacking us about the head with absurdly loud music, flashy effects or attention-drawing editing (and, even better, and unlike the trailers imply, the lead characters don’t let out primal screams every time they launch an attack at their nemeses). The film announces its somber tone and serious intent with the Warner Brothers logo itself: they’ve done a special one, conjured by the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Finnes, who is fantastically scary throughout), in black and white, slowly creeping (in 3D) towards the audience, accompanied by the subtle, ominous and, essentially, perfect score (by Alexandre Desplat, doing, for my money, better work here than on his Oscar-nominated score for The King’s Speech). That tone carries throughout the movie; there are a few deliberate laugh lines (appreciated by the Potter-crazy audience I saw the film with) but they arise naturally from the situations rather than feel obligatory, and, in general, nothing about the film seems to cowtow to either expectations nor Warner Brothers marketing department. It has a vision, a specific look and feel, and it feels totally true to itself. The few nods to audience appeasement only enrich the experience, never drawing you away from it: the main example I could see was that it was obviously desired to get as many familiar faces (read: Old British Theatre Luvvies) from the entire series into this final episode, with the result that the great Miriam Margolyes appears in a single group reaction shot! (I’ve met Ms. Margolyes, and I have no doubt she found her day or so on the set, and her tiny appearance in the film, nothing other than a great chuckle and a weirdly extravagant paycheck). The three main actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, have all obviously grown up in the world’s most unique film-acting academy (being the series itself) and all are completely believable as wizards on the verge of adulthood. As mentioned above, Fiennes is a terrific villain: he commits to every aspect of his make-up, demonic nature and obsessive boy-wizard hatred with great professional integrity, and I’m sure that Voldemort is, for the target audience, as powerful and beloved a villain as Darth Vader was for my generation. All the Old British Theatre Luvvies do their jobs with aplomb (the largest pieces of screentime pie in this episode going to Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman); the production design is immaculate; and, I have to say (not being a fan) the 3D is used excellently (we tried to get into a 2D session, which was sold out; we were glad, as the 3D really works). Above all, though, I come back to the restraint that Yates uses, avoiding all manner of action-movie / franchise-movie / studio-movie / hero-movie / money-making movie clichés. Whether or not its his “British sensibility”, this is a massive, tentpole, franchise movie with impeccable good taste – its most essential, surprising and exhilarating ingredient.