- Humor. ESB and TTT are way funny—funnier than their predecessors, arguably. Besides the romantic comedy between Han and Leia, See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo are at the top of their comic-relief game. Yoda: Funny also. Funny bits in TTT include Legolas and Gimli’s orc-slaying competition, a mortified Gimli asking Aragorn to toss him, and Merry and Pippin drinking Ent-water. DH1 isn’t without a few mildly funny bits —the polyjuice bits are amusing, and there’s Hermione’s seemingly all-inclusive bag—but I can’t think of a single exchange remotely as funny as Han and Leia’s exchange about discussing things in a committee. Is DH1 even one of the funnier HP films to date? I doubt it.
- Inspiration. The best of Yoda’s koan-like sayings are memorable and even potentially uplifting; you could see them being quoted by a homilist, or at least a motivational speaker. “Wars not make one great.” “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” TTT also includes some noble lines, such as Sam’s speech about the “great stories” that “really mattered,” and his affirmation that “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Past HP movies have offered some insightful thoughts: for example, Dumbledore’s remark to Harry at the end of Chamber of Secrets that “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choices.” Does anyone in DH1 say anything likewise worthy of being remembered and quoted?
- Earned poignancy. Most poignant plot twist left unresolved by the end of the film? ESB: Han is frozen in carbonite and turned over to Boba Fett. (Bad guys do that sort of thing.) TTT: Gollum’s fledgling faith in Frodo, and incipient redemption, are shattered forever by his capture and rough treatment by Faramir’s men. (Tragic misunderstanding.) DH1: Hermione obliviates her own parents, erasing her existence from their memories without their consent or knowledge. (Wait, she’s one of the heroes, right?)
- Emotional climax.The emotional climax of ESB is a pivotal, defining revelation for its hero—a moment of shattering force that has become one of the best-known lines in cinema, endlessly parodied in movies, television and so on. TTT is less successful here (due to the deferral of Shelob and a misconceived detour to Osgiliath), but it divides its emotional climax between Treebeard’s realization of Saruman’s treachery and Sméagol succumbing to Gollum after the “betrayal” of his master. What’s the emotional climax of DH1? The death of Dobby? A character we know only from the second film, who gets like two scenes here?
- More coolness. ESB coolness not cited so far: the Falcon escaping from the space slug; Luke’s vision-duel at the cave; Yoda effortlessly levitating the X-wing out of the swamp; Luke falling into infinity after his battle with Vader. TTT coolness not mentioned so far: Gandalf’s mid-air battle with the Balrog; Saruman knocked flat at the rousing of Théoden; Gandalf’s arrival with the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep; Andy Serkis’ bravura Sméagol–Gollum dialogues. What’s DH1 got to compare with any of that? Seven Harry Potters? Harry and friends riding the porcelain express to the Ministry of Magic? Ron Weasley gawking at a vision of Harry and Hermione’s imaginary semi-naked snog? Give me a break.
I know, I know, the filmmakers are following the books, and if only I had read the books, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 would be a better movie. But the fact is, seven films in, Harry Potter feels here like a series that’s about shot its wad. There’s just not a lot here that we haven’t seen before, and certainly nothing obviously going beyond previous installments in the series.
That doesn’t mean Part 2 won’t be a reasonably satisfying, slam-bang finale—something that might plausibly be compared to Return of the Jedi or The Return of the King. That doesn’t make this film anything like The Empire Strikes Back, or even The Two Towers.