"Harry Potter and the Delay of the Inevitable, Part II"
"Oh! Like We've Never Done THAT Before..."
It is very disturbing to me that the all-time box-office-generating series of all time is the "Harry Potter" series. I've only read one of the novels—the first—and found it charming, nicely irreverent, and "tuned in" perceptively on the subject of kid-angst, albeit "special needs" students. J.K. Rowling deserves all the acclaim and revenues for her wizard knock-off, and a special thanks (and maybe a medal or something...flowers?) for getting kids to read again.
The movies started out with a wonderful charm under the directions of Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón. But starting with the fourth film, everything started to be treated just a Death-Eater shade too darkly, the scripts being too respectful to their sources (while simultaneously neglecting the arcana that delighted in the Rowlings), and the neat visual touches that were thrown in and taken for granted as part of the magical landscape, really WERE taken for granted, and never advanced in sophistication, or inspiration. The emphasis has been on economics—meeting deadlines and cranking them out under the lackluster director of the series' final four films, David Yates.
The same holds true for the new one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Yates is back as the director (and Steve Kloves, thankfully, is back as scripter, providing bursts of dialogue freshness), and his shot-planning is just as uninspired as it has been his last two outings, taking his cues from the gloomy vista look of "The Lord of the Rings" series. This time out, It is a Dark Time for the World, Muggle or No: the Big Nasty of the series, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, relishing the role) and his minions control the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts School. Time to eliminate the one person he hasn't been able to kill—Harold James Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Harry's inner circle of loyalists spirit him away to hide him from The Dark Lord (which ends up killing a couple of them—and like every death in the series, they are disquietly unmoving). Ultimately, the Trio to Whom Everything Happens (Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) separate from the group in a self-sacrificing quest to find the horcruxes—the movie seems confused about whether there are seven or merely three—that contain the souls of Voldemort's victims that are keeping him together. Destroy the horcruxes and destroy Voldemort. Sounds simple enough. But, we go through an extended camping trip with the three where they are fugitives from dark Snatchers and Death-Eaters and petty disagreements. It's not spoiling anything to say that they find precisely zero horcruxes, and, instead, discover the secret of the Deathly Hallows (told in a quite nice animated story), which would appear to negate all previous plot-points and quests...hence, they wouldn't be in the title if they weren't so damned important, as this isn't "Harry Potter and the Completely Superfluous Thingamabobs." One walks out feeling as if one had just spent a dragon-choking wad of cash and two and a half hours of precious life-time having merely seen the pre-game show, the same result as from the last two films.
There are joys and differences: the kids have learned to be very subtle actors, and, as always, the cast of British thesps is head-spinning in scope and styles, and they all seem aware that they must make the most of their limited screen-time, and they do—Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter and Jason Isaacs go out of their way to make their every moment count. Bill Nighy makes his first appearance in a "Potter" and he has that sepulchral style that makes him a natural for it. Some of the lines are clever, There are a couple of seat-jumps (remnants of when the film was to be released in 3-D),and there's even a touch of sex in this one—the kids are 17, now—with a chaste moment of Potter paramour Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) asking Harry to zip up her wedding frock, and a vision of a naked Harry and Hermione making out is produced at one point to infuriate Ron Weasley ("That was...disturbing," said the girls sitting behind me...mm-hmm).
But, it's much ado about nothing. We're left at the cusp of the action to come (and there are no hints or previews of Part 2 after the credits, so don't stick around unless you want to hear Alexandre Desplat's serviceable—and momentarily inspired—stand-in score for John Williams'), a theatrical moment that is merely some villainous chest-thumping. Not the best or most impressive way to end it. At this point, I'm beginning to think that the Potter film series is like a box of Bertie Bott's jelly beans—one or two might be good, but there are a bunch of ugly unsatisfying ones in the mix.
The one thing missing that I hope—but doubt—will re-appear for the finale,* is the one thing that should be emblematic for such a series: some inspired magic.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is a Rental.
* Is there some sort of spell we can conjure to ensure there are no more sequels, prequels or "inspired by's?"