He-who-shall-not-be-named strikes back.
Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane
Red Flags: Fantasy violence, some teen sensuality
Walking out of the latest edition of the Harry Potter saga, I had a flashback to the second feature of the original Star Wars trilogy, the dark chapter setting up the big finish. The first part of Deathly Hallows is that kind of picture, although at times it also reminded me of The Blair Witch Project with scene after scene of young people fending for themselves in the wilderness against some unspeakable evil.
By breaking the finale in half, screenwriter Steve Kloves gets to do something his other Potter scripts haven't allowed: take a breath. So we spend more time absorbing the angst of Harry (Radcliffe) and his pals Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) as they deal with the weight of saving the world amidst teenage hormones and rebellion. I remember how cute and lovable these characters were as tweens in the first film. The last of that innocence is gone now.
The young wizards face a world where they can trust few people, if anyone. The Dark Lord's allies have taken over the Ministry of Magic, renovating it into a neo-fascist organization to repress muggles (non-wizards). It's printing up all sorts of propaganda and instruction manuals and summarizing everything in a disturbing monument labeled "Magic is Might."
Death Eaters are constantly searching for Harry and company, who have to disguise themselves at times using a potion that morphs them into other people. Hermione, always the spell prodigy, has also figured out how to make herself and others invisible without the cloak from the first picture. It kind of begs the question why she didn't figure that out sooner, but you have to remember, these kids are still in school.
While trying to outrun Death Eaters, the three protagonists also have to find and destroy evil lockets called "holcruxes" that give you-know-who his power. As you would expect, just finding and offing one is a job big enough for a single movie. Having one around you is also not good for your mental health, sort of the wizarding equivalent of Superman's kryptonite.
At times the picture seems aimless, but maybe that's because the Potter pictures up to now have been so heavily distilled that only the good parts are left. Or maybe the tone is so much darker and heavier. We don't even journey to Hogwarts this time around, nor do we witness a single game of Quidditch. News from the outside world is relayed to our characters through a special shortwave radio. It made me think of life in Great Britain during World War II. This... is London, with dueling wizards swarming around it and an axis of evil about to engulf it if all is lost. I've long theorized the Harry Potter series is so popular because it draws primarily from reality while weaving its tale of fantasy.