Split Ends: Harry Potter Lurches Toward The Final Curtain

City Pulse | November 15, 2010
A flawed decision to split the final installment of the Harry Potter books into two films results in a formless narrative that overstays its welcome. For as detailed as director David Yates attempts to be with slick visual effects that periodically invigorate the movie, the over-emphasized spectacle merely illustrates the film's lacking storyline. We understand that Harry is in grave danger but don't get any sense of his ability or inclination to rescue the human and underground magic worlds from sinister forces if he survives to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. Reigning over the darkest of times Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters rally forces with Rufus Scrimgeour's (Bill Nighy) Ministry of Magic to track down and kill Harry Potter. A Nazi-era social climate of fascistic dictatorship rules with public announcements informing Europe's citizenry, "You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide." Harry's latest birthday coincides with his teaming up with old pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to find and destroy a number of magic talismans called Horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort's ink-black soul, thereby killing him once and for all.

Without its familiar academic campus setting of Hogwarts to anchor its physical parameters, the movie meanders in and out of disconnected but visually impressive set pieces--as when Harry discovers and dramatically extracts the fabled sword of Gryffindor from its icy grave.

For much of the time Harry, Ron, and Hermione camp out in a patch of rural woods waiting for something to happen. The trio of protagonists are too passive to earn much respect beyond what they've accrued over the previous six films. They come across as clueless about how to accomplish their mission with any sense of urgency. They're like unsupervised kids in desperate need of a chaperone. Even as allegedly experienced young wizards, none of them exhibit much confidence when employing magic to escape their many pursuers, although Hermione does save the day on more than one occasion.

The idle sleepover subplot is not without its charms. The World War I-styled tent our trio uses for shelter mimics Hermione's magic bag that can invisibly carry a vast amount of stuff. Although the tent looks downright tiny from the outside, the area inside is open and spacious. Harry and Hermione share the film's most charming scene when they do an impromptu dance together to Nick Cave's "O Children." It's a lighthearted moment that allows the characters to share a momentary dream of romance that is far more tangible than the story's vague idea about Harry restoring social order by killing Voldemort before Voldemort kills him.

Prominently missing are the fruits of the previous films' coming-of-age bits that marked Harry, Ron, and Hermione as creatures of amorous desire. Any flashes of fireworks between Hermione and Ron are muted behind their grumpy exchanges. Instead we get stylistic overtures to horror--a former Hogwart's teacher becomes a meal for an especially large and hungry snake at a Ministry of Magic meeting. Later, Ron incurs a grotesque injury that might challenge young viewers. The overall dark look of the film inhabits a moody atmosphere of uncompromising death and decay.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours you get the sense that screenwriter Steve Kloves is dragging out the action with filler that should have been left on the cutting room floor. If the filmmakers' intention was to stay true to J.K. Rowlings's novel by including a wealth of narrative details and visual filigree then they have at least scratched the surface. However, what they haven't done is present a cohesive story with knowable and reliable characters. A stream of cameo appearances from the series' cannon of familiar faces, such as Brendan Gleeson's Mad-Eye Moody, Bonny Wright's Genny Weasley, and even a poignant appearance from the miniature elf Dobby, fail to bridge a cold impasse created by a script that repeatedly stalls out. Harry can't even keep track of his magic wand and powerful sword. In such a climatic franchise movie, its would-be heroic characters should be in control as confident practitioners of the magic they've studied for so long. Instead, our geeky trio are still playing catch up. There isn't much room for character development here because David Yeats's Harry Potter machine tries too hard to be all things to all people. You get the feeling that a terrible mistake has been made.

Rated PG-13. 150 mins. (C) (Two Stars)
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