Harry Potter 7 Part II

The end of an era for Potter fans as the boy who lived becomes a man

The most famous boy wizard of our times promises, for the most part, to go out with a bang. But, by film’s end, it’s more like a whimper. I don’t get it. It seems that nearly everyone, be they Harry Potter fans or not, leaves the cinema remarking how brilliantly the phenomenally successful franchise has ended.

And yet, for the fourth time in a row, I find myself underwhelmed. Why? Is it JK Rowling’s source material, which, to be frank, has been no more than good at best? Or is it David Yates’s directing? On reflection, I think it’s a bit of both.

I was delighted when Yates was handed the reigns for Order of the Phoenix (for non-fans, that’s Harry Potter 5). He has an understated, visually appealing directorial style, and a knack for great casting (see the preposterous, but entertaining, The Girl in the Café).

Mix his film-making skills with the best of British actors (notably Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald) and you couldn’t go far wrong. Or could you?

The final quest begins in a suitably eerie manner. For the uninitiated, our intrepid heroes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) must set out to find the remainder of the Horcruxes, which will in turn help them solve the mystery of the titular Deathly Hallows.

Along the way, we are treated to some striking set-pieces, such as yet another – but highly amusing – use of Polyjuice potion, a thrilling descent into the Gringott’s Vault, and a revelation that will be especially powerful for those less familiar with the books.

None of this is overly original – indeed, Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans may get déjà vu – but that doesn’t make these particular scenes any less fun or enthralling.

Then it’s onto the big finale. Will Dumbledore’s Army bring down Lord Voldemort and his followers once and for all? And will viewers care? The answer is 'yes', just about.

The franchise’s ultimate set-piece, The Battle of Hogwarts, is filmed effectively enough to maintain interest, with two particular standout moments – Neville (Matthew Lewis) trying to be Braveheart, and Harry’s visit to King’s Cross.

But moments like these only serve to remind us what the film could have been. A battle such as this calls for the grandeur and epic feel of a Peter Jackson’s film, but Yates never quite knows whether to be understated or extravagant. The fates of numerous key characters, including two important villains, are handled especially poorly.

Yates’s Harry Potter films have always frustrated in that manner. They have a great build-up, supporting cast, score (especially in the last two films) and atmosphere, but little or no pay-off. And it’s unfortunate for him that pay-off is key.

On the other hand, it is arguable that he did the best he could with Rowling’s books, which became more rambling and expository as the series progressed. This, to me, is the logical explanation for the abruptness and awkwardness of certain key moments. Let’s face it, did Ron and Hermione’s love for one another ever really convince you?

Additionally, while I have rarely been one to criticize Harry himself, Radcliffe – Mark Hamill and Roger Moore didn’t need to be great thespians to pull off similarly iconic roles – his lack of presence severely hampers him here, especially alongside Ralph Fiennes.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (or HP72, for aficionados) is undoubtedly worth seeing. But this franchise has consistently threatened to be so much more than it is. And with that in mind, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is on general release now.