Undeniably, Harry Potter owned the box office this weekend, spurring frenzied ticket sales and fervent fans (myself included) willing to line up and partake of the billion-dollar franchise of the boy wizard and his epic quest to match his good against the darkest of evil.
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is back and is literally on the run with his ever faithful friends and companions Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Hogwarts, the ever-present magical educational institution has been infiltrated by Voldemort and his evil cohorts and thus Harry makes the decision to leave school in order to search for the remaining horcruxes, objects tied to Voldemort’s power that must be destroyed in order for Harry to once and for all defeat the evil wizard. Harry and his pals—aside from a brief foray in Piccadilly Circus in downtown London—are literally out in the wilderness as they try to distance themselves from those they love in order to protect them from harm and stay one step ahead of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Slowly, but surely Harry is being led to his destiny.
“Slowly” is the operative word here. As my dear friend Arianna whispered to me in the theater: “Would they just get out of the woods already?” And sometimes it did indeed feel that Harry Potter and his friends were starring in their very own Blair Witch Project. Being mindful that this is Part I of the final film installment, this film is the most faithful to the strict narrative of the novel, literally going chapter by chapter as we build ever so slowly to the final epic showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort; it covers 501 of the 759 pages of the final novel. The problem is that sometimes we feel that we are literally treading every step of their journey with them. I understand that they are lost, confused, dissenting in their own ranks and on the verge of hopelessness—I just don’t want to feel that way myself for an hour.
The film sustained amazing moments including an opening broomstick chase in the sky, a glimpse into Voldemort’s true evil exercise of power, and an escape from the Malfoy mansion from the clutches of the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). However, these moments, though thrilling, taper off and do little to maintain a spirit of momentum in the film. And although the trio of actors (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) have literally grown into their roles throughout the series and perform admirably well, they themselves do not have the moxy to hold up the weight of this film franchise. The usual interplay with veteran English actors such as Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, and Emma Thompson is noticeably lacking. In addition, the time spent with Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) is all too fleeting.
Also of interesting note is that one derivation from the novel was the idea of a sexualized Harry Potter. Perhaps pressure from the Twilight franchise made the director decide to take some liberties, most notably with the nude shadowy forms of Harry and Hermione kissing in the ultimate manifestation of Ron’s insecurities. Although nothing is seen per say, just knowing the intention behind it made at least this audience member avert her eyes.
Criticism aside, I am still a Harry Potter fan. It is clear that the film is the ultimate parting love letter to fans that have embraced the book series. With just traces of stereotypical English snobbery, nobody is going to explain what a horcrux is or hold your hand through the remaining multiple story arcs of the novel. They are assuming you have faithfully read the series or else you are left to wander around Harry Potter’s abandoned campsite.
“I open at the close” was a clue that Harry Potter found in his gift of the snitch from Dumbledore…here’s hoping that it is also an omen for the opening of adventure, excitement, and epic that must surely be yet to come in the final film due out this summer.
Runtime: 2 hr 36 min — PG-13 — Sci-Fi, Fantasy