| A movie should be able to stand on its own without the need of a crutch provided by the source material. That is not the case for the penultimate film of the seven-book fantasy saga by J.K. Rowling. This reviewer felt like an outsider looking in to an intricate world and a complex story. The names of people, places and things literally fly over your head. This is the darkest and weakest installment of the bunch. The fun, joy, sense of wonder and entertainment value found in the previous movies is missing.
The first indication that things are different is the rusted version of the Warner Brothers logo that disintegrates and is replaced by two eyes staring directly at you. “These are dark times, there’s no denying,” says the strident new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy). A war is brewing between the forces of good and evil.
Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the unofficial head of the secret Order of the Phoenix, was killed at the end of the last movie. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters are on the verge of seizing power. Their first order of business is to eliminate all the “Muggles,” wizards and witches who are not purebloods. This includes the Dursley family on Privet Drive that adopted Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). They, like a lot of the supporting characters, make a cameo appearance that allows the fans to say a tearful goodbye.
During a meeting, Voldemort states that it is up to him to kill Harry and he needs a special wand to accomplish it. He wants the Death Eaters to find Harry.
Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody (Brendan Gleeson) shows up at Harry’s deserted suburban house with a group that includes Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). He has everyone drink a foul-tasting potion to replicate multiple Harry Potters to throw the Death Eaters off the scent. An exciting special effects-driven nighttime airborne chase ends with Harry, Hermione and Ron at the isolated Weasley homestead.
The heroic trio has left Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at the beginning of their senior year. They are on a treasure hunt to find and destroy objects known as “Horcruxes” that contain fragmented pieces of Voldemort’s twisted soul.
Scrimgeour makes a final appearance at the Weasleys and reads Dumbledore’s Last Will and Testament. Three concrete items are bequeathed to the teenage triumvirate to help them succeed on their quest. Ron is given a magical light to illuminate the way when things seem the darkest. Hermione is given a book filled with symbols and clues. Harry is given a gold ball from a Quidditch match to remind him of his unique skills and the perseverance required to succeed. A magical missing sword is also mentioned. It must be found since it can destroy the Horcruxes.
The three reconnect with former house elves Dobby (the voice of Toby Jones) and Kreacher (the voice of Simon McBurney). They learn that one of the Horcruxes is a locket in the possession of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a petite lady dressed in pink now serving as a judge. They transform themselves into the bodies of minor wizards and infiltrate the corrupt bureaucratic headquarters that take a page out of the Third Reich. Harry breaks into the courtroom and is able to remove the locket from around Dolores’ neck. Another furious chase ensues.
The trio end up in a secluded wilderness. This concludes the first half of the movie.
The audience is exposed to strange sights and sounds. Things come to a standstill. The movie drags with inactivity. They take turns standing guard and wearing the locket, which has dramatic effects on their personality. The stunning visual landscapes that surround them are the only saving grace to this boring passage of time that seems like unnecessary padding to the 2½-hour running time.
After the locket is finally destroyed, the movie picks up the pace with an effective animated sequence that explains the titular “Deathly Hallows.” It is a tale of three brothers who cheated the Grim Reaper by building a bridge across a river. Death gave each of them a powerful, revered gift. The oldest brother got an invincible wand made from an elder tree. The middle one received a resurrection stone that could bring loved ones back from the grave. The youngest sibling received a cloak of invisibility.
After this key revelation, Harry, Hermione and Ron are captured by bounty-hunting Snatchers and taken to a castle where the psychotic Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) delights in tormenting them. Dobby comes to their rescue and they manage to escape once again. Voldemort opens Dumbledore’s grave and takes the wand that he believes is the invincible one bestowed on the oldest brother by Death itself.
This movie appears to be a stall tactic pandering strictly to the book readers. It should quench their thirst while leaving them wanting more. They may resort to re-reading the final volume if the wait until Part 2 set for release on July 15 proves unbearable.
The British accents are much more noticeable in this installment and the conversations are hard to decipher. Non-readers and Potter virgins will be frustrated and completely lost by the confusing story. The three main leads’ deficient acting ability causes the movie to falter in the middle. The absence of the colorful supporting players to bolster enthusiasm is a crucial missing ingredient.
The computer-generated special visual effects are spectacular and continue to be the standout hallmark strength of this blockbuster franchise. Parents of impressionable youngsters should be aware that there are disturbing scenes involving a huge anaconda snake. The movie is quite intense and full of scary-looking individuals, especially Voldemort with his hideous reptilian face.
The movie is incomplete on purpose and the debate will be ongoing as to whether it was advisable to split the finale into two halves.
Besides the standard 2D version, the movie is being shown in IMAX for a premium price. Johnson County now has two IMAX screens with the recently converted auditorium at AMC Town Center 20 in addition to the longstanding one at AMC Studio 30 in Olathe.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"