My Wand is Better Than Yours
by Aldrin Calimlim
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
D: David Yates
S: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman
There’s something not quite right in saying that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment in the popular film series based on J. K. Rowling’s ridiculously successful collection of seven children’s books about a mostly hapless boy wizard, is the worst among all eight entries in the Warner Bros.-powered franchise. To say so is to assert that the film is, actually, bad. It is not. A more accurate manner of describing the film relative to its cinematic siblings is to say that it’s the least good of the bunch. If anything, this belief, held both by most viewers and by most critics, betokens the singular richness of the film series’ source material as well as the skill with which the filmmakers, within the span of a decade, adapted it—all six and two halves of it.
Order of the Phoenix was the series directorial debut of the then virtually unknown David Yates. The film was a modest success (which is still saying something, considering that what is being spoken of is a goddamn Harry Potter film), fraught as it was from the start with the hazards of condensing the longest and arguably least good (not worst) Harry Potter book into two hours, more or less, of celluloid. The result was at best pleasant, a corrugated affair having many a montage sequence, more than what a typical inspirational sports movie holds. Nevertheless, it was indicative of Yates’s nascent flair for character- and plot-driven fantasy, away from his usual forays into social realism. Yates went on to direct the remaining installments, thereby displaying his developing authorial confidence: from his mind’s eye emerged the deliciously somber Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the affectingly wistful Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and, finally, the frantically fleet-footed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. But montage sequences are, three films and four years since the release of Order of the Phoenix, still among the things up Yates’s sleeve. To his credit, though, in Deathly Hallows: Part 2 their use is more compulsory than convenient.
Several montages in the final Harry Potter film are instances of fast cutting, signifying the increasingly tenuous mental link between Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, troubled and stubbled) and his lifelong enemy, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, bald and appalled). These occur every time a Horcrux is found and destroyed by Harry and his constant companions, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). A Horcrux, in Rowling’s imagined parlance, is an object in which a fragment of a person’s soul is stored in his intention to achieve immortality. In accordance with plot logic, that person remains unbeatable until all his Horcruxes are vanquished. But the film, although it sneaks a short reintroduction of the Deathly Hallows themselves (a different set of articles of magic purported to make the person who possesses them a master of death) before a wizened character’s brief but ultimately important speech about wand lore, spends no precious time in briefing the uninitiated about Horcruxes. Nor should it. Plenty of expository dialogues have been devoted to them in Half-Blood Prince, and there are enough manifestations anyway of Voldemort’s affinity with the dark objects to aid the novice viewer.
Since the onset of Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Harry, Ron, and Hermione have been on the lookout for the Horcruxes Voldemort made before he met his downfall the night he tried to kill the then infant Harry, and at the close of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 three of the presumed six (plus Voldemort’s own body makes a total of seven, a magically potent number) have already been done away with. Deathly Hallows: Part 2 consequently sees the trio hunting for the other three. The remainder of their quest is made even more pressing by Voldemort’s not unexpected attack on the Hogwarts castle, their magical boarding school, where they abscond in hopes of being reunited with their friends and family as well as finding therein a Horcrux or two. The ensuing battle naturally compounds the urgency of the Horcrux hunt, and hence the film appears to derive satisfaction from its newfound briskness, even giving a few secondary characters their best and most fist-pumping scenes in the entire series amid its blistering pace. (Ron’s mother’s famous pre-duel line to Helena Bonham Carter’s vicious Bellatrix Lestrange, rendered in all caps in the book, is uttered otherwise: it is now a calmer yet resolute, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” which should please fans nonetheless.) In this respect, as far as tone and pace are concerned, Part 2 is almost diametrically opposite to the decidedly atmospheric Part 1.
Whereas each of the previous films depicted events that mostly happened throughout a period of months, if not a full year, the closing film of the franchise, bar its saccharine epilogue, has a unique time frame of only around 24 hours, picking up right where Deathly Hallows: Part 1 left off (Voldemort stealing the notorious Elder Wand, one of the three Deathly Hallows, from the tomb of Dumbledore, its former owner and Harry’s mentor) and ending with the inevitable final face-off between Harry and Voldemort. In the interim a significant sort-of montage sequence is presented. Immediately following a standout display of talent from actor Alan Rickman and itself containing more demonstrations of the same, it’s a jumble of strands of memories from the mind of Severus Snape (Rickman), Harry’s least favorite (perhaps worst) teacher and Dumbledore’s murderer. Dubbed “The Prince’s Tale,” it is to Part 2 as the handsomely animated “Tale of the Three Brothers,” which tells the origin story of the Deathly Hallows, is to Part 1. It reveals through a succession of beautifully framed flashbacks a couple of plot twists confirming what most viewers, including non-readers, have suspected long ago (in the case of the readers, before the release of the final book). One revelation concerns a Horcrux and an act of self-sacrifice, while the other concerns a Horcrux and an act of self-sacrifice.
Death, given the film’s intimations of a main character’s vain attempts of evading it contrary to another’s and his allies’ heroic acts towards confronting it, looms large throughout Deathly Hallows: Part 2. But, of course, underneath all the surface tension lies the all too imminent triumph of love, doubtless the overarching theme of the series and, as Rowling and company have made crystal clear, the greatest magic there is. This much is evident especially during the aforementioned montage of memories and in the scene marking the film’s halfway point, which shows the trio, not unaided by friends, bravely crossing the school courtyard war-torn and inundated with Voldemort’s army.
It’s a tad easy to extol—or, indeed, dismiss—Deathly Hallows: Part 2 as a contemporary war movie, albeit rendered bloodless and PG-13 by its diegetic contrivance of people pointing glorified pieces of wood at one another hardly resulting in laceration and hemorrhage. It unfetteredly makes a case for the persistence of good against evil, laudable but played to a fault in the way the good guy appears to do things that are beyond what he’s actually capable of, what with his somewhat unimpressive, luck-laden seven-year history with teenage wizardry, and in the way the bad guy struggles, by dint of poor, blindsided planning and the deus ex machina-esque importance of the allegiance of said glorified pieces of wood. But no matter: Harry and Voldemort’s prolonged match, as well as the other events in the legendary Battle of Hogwarts, is as exhilarating as any climactic exchange of salvos in a bona fide war movie, its aftermath no less bittersweet for its having been fought in a world where healing and repair are seemingly achieved with just a wave of a wand.
Deathly Hallows: Part 2 can also be seen as the culmination of a series of films about a war more personal, one that is fought with angst and acne, with hormones and rebellion. Harry Potter, it must be acknowledged, is an extended allegory of the perks and pains of growing up and approaching the threshold between adolescence and maturity. One of the memorable scenes in Order of the Phoenix—memorable not because it’s well-staged but because it sticks out like a zit ripe for the pricking—is an awkward kissing scene between Harry and his first girlfriend under—what else?—a sprig of mistletoe, although one that’s filled with Nargles, probably. In Deathly Hallows: Part 2, too, osculatory interludes take place, reminders and celebratory acts of affection and connection amid the attendant disorder of earthly existence, common, as it happens, to wizards and Muggles both.