Wizard Apocalypse: the best til last

Hey. Our man Mienheer has gone to see the all out battle that is Harry potter 7/2. Most of you have already read the book and to those who haven’t there is some spoiler action..not much, nothing that would hurt the film. But this is a damn good review for what seems to be a damn good film. Enjoy-

So here it is. The finale, the endgame of all things Potter. The culmination of a fourteen-year cultural phenomenon that has swept all before it, been accused of neo-paganism, sold half a billion books - the last four being the fastest-selling books of all time - and created the most successful film franchise in the history of cinema with a worldwide box office of over 6 billion dollars. This movie is the climax!

I'll come right out and say it, I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I haven’t even read the books. While some will instantly dismiss this review as a result, I like to think it gives me a certain impartial objectivity in these end times at the eye of the storm of Pottermania.

So does it deliver the goods? Though slow in starting and draggy in parts, the answer is yes. HP 7/2 is a fitting cinematic denouement to this incredible series. A mythology that seems destined to be for this generation what Star Wars was to a previous one. With the greatest ready audience in the history of film, all David Yates and co had to do was not screw it up, and they haven't.

The film worryingly starts off in a continuation of the style of the somewhat dull part 1; slow, ponderous, contemplative, full of awkward, cack-handed, jargon-heavy dialogue scenes. After about 15 minutes of this, during which I was writing it off, it comes to life, and segways into a full-on George Lucas festival. A succession of sequences that closely mirror ones we have seen before; the treasure-grab from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', the subterranean kart ride from 'Temple of Doom', the death star infiltration and escape from 'Star Wars', and a little later the speeder-bike ride from 'Return of the Jedi'.

Though HP’s magpie-like postmodern derivativeness is not necessarily a bad thing (see below), thankfully this unoriginal though well realized action segment does not last long. And from the appearance of Kelly Macdonald's ghost of Helena Ravenclaw the movie begins to hold its own.

Once we get back to the school, it all kicks off. All of the exciting, fast-paced, climactic scenes of wizard warfare so lacking from part 1 are unveiled. Finally we get to the real showdown: the Battle of Hogwarts. The action set-pieces, the money shots featuring massive trolls and wand duels, the attacking hordes of dark wizards, the falling masonry. This is what we paid the entrance fee for! And the movie delivers in spades. While it is not a battle on a ‘Return of the King’ scale, more economically and sparsely edited, for my money the level of imagination and artistry is far greater than in that rather bland portrayal of CGI’d vastness. It is clear the amount of serious thought and inventive planning that has gone into much of this battle sequence. Many shots have a level of cinematic merit unusual for what is still, lest we forget, a kids’ film.

While the battle is colourfully raging all around Harry plucks up the courage, or rather the bewildering array of wizard accoutrements and magical items he needs, to confront his nemesis Voldemort. HP fans will of course know the story’s conclusion. Suffice to say it is pulled off fairly awesomely. Mainly it has to be said courtesy of the acting legend that is Ralph Fiennes.

He has been kept on a fairly tight leash for these last 7 movies, restricted to minimal, ‘teaser’ screen time, but finally the one who cannot be named emerges into the daylight as a genuine character. And like the film in general, you would be forgiven for expecting him not to live up to the hype. But, he does. Fiennes is superb in this smarmy, Vincent Price-like Luciferian role, bringing such energy, danger and unexpected, idiosyncratic evil to the film through the latex that he steals it hands down. His transition from gloating to despair is incredible to watch.

After the excellently- sustained ‘morning after the battle’ sequence, it’s basically all over, folks. Pats on the back all round. Even Daniel Radcliffe, the complete unknown plucked from obscurity, delivers the line ‘it’s mine’ perfectly.

The movie finishes up with a super-cheesy coda featuring Harry, Hermione and Ron seeing their kids off to Hogwarts, which had many older viewers reaching for the bucket. But come on, it has to be done! It’s the presentation ceremony from ‘Star Wars’! Sam’s wedding back in the shire! To me it is a fitting if somewhat cringeworthy end to this great series.

This movie is the apex of what might be called the ‘fantasy decade', which has seen both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis's series dug up for fresh audiences. But it is Rowling's new achievement that has been the real story, attracting a following almost unprecedented in its breadth and globe-devouring intensity.

Literary snobs may scoff but the cultural impact of half a billion books cannot be ignored. You can dismiss it as unoriginal; arguably this series is nothing more than an amalgamation of Jill Murphy’s ‘The Worst Witch’ and Enid Blyton’s girls’ boarding school books (e.g. ‘Malory Towers’) in which each book represents a new year at the school. But that is not really the point. It is a bringing together of all these influences, and many more, into a more generalized cultural narrative that can reach a vastly greater audience. A fetishisation of the English class and public school system that is accessible (and clearly attractive) to a worldwide audience (for ‘hereditary class’ read ‘hereditary magical ability’) melded with a pre-Christian British folk tradition familiar from everything from ‘Lord of the Rings’ to Terry Pratchet. Rowling may be using well-worn tools but in her own way she has as much to say as Tolkien.

Another genius aspect of Rowling’s series is the way it progresses in thematic maturity with the age of the characters and readers. The films do the same. Whereas the Chris Columbus-directed ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ is a movie for young kids featuring young kids, this final movie certainly is not. Although probably viewable by 12 year olds, it is unlikely to be appreciated fully by anyone younger than the late teen characters themselves.

Overall the Harry Potter series has been a resounding success. Conducted with great taste, truly spectacular casting and a wise, steering hand from Warner Bros. David Yates was not a choice that met with immediate approval, but he has delivered four solid slices of mainstream film-making. Are they the greatest films ever? No, and I will always prefer Alfonso Cuaron’s more avant garde ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’. But they hit the mark and are watchable family entertainment. This final installment may be the biggest Harry Potter yet.

Posted by Prester John - 7/13/2011 12:56:32 AM


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