The seventh Harry Potter movie, based on the seventh and final book, is here at last, yet the saga is not over. Extending their biggest cash cow of the millennium into next year, Warner Bros. has split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in two, with Part 2 coming next year, almost a full decade after the series started.
In principle, this would seem to mean that seventh book should get better justice than the preceding books, which had to make do with one movie apiece. It should mean fewer compromises and more story integrity, fewer gaps and more logical continuity. Since this is the beginning of the end, now would be a good time to catch up those who may have missed an installment or two but want to see how it all pans out — particularly since this installment involves less action and more standing around than any previous film. Wouldn’t you think?
Odd, then, that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 should be the first film in the franchise to leave me behind. None of the previous films had me as uncertain, for as much of the time, about what was happening and why. I admit I’ve never been a real Harry-head, only a dabbler. I read the first three books but bogged down somewhere in the fourth; I’ve seen all the films once or twice, no more. I’ve gone into each film with only my hazy memories of what went before, and it has never been an issue — until now.
I do follow that things are really bad as Deathly Hallows: Part 1 opens. Dumbledore is dead, Voldemort and the Death Eaters control the Ministry of Magic, and they’re gunning for Harry, whose friends in the Order of the Phoenix have their hands full protecting him.
So far, so good. But almost the first scene in the movie depicts Hermione tearfully zapping her parents from behind with an obliviating spell, wiping all memory and evidence of her from their minds and lives as she, Harry and Ron prepare to go underground. I suppose this was to protect them; I don’t think the movie explains.
Robbing parents of parenthood? Did anyone realize how horrific this is? Are we meant to accept this without even an on-screen rationale? J. K. Rowling is a mother: Would she sacrifice the love of her children in her heart for anything? Would any danger, any heartache, any torture be too great? If anyone, even her children, tried to erase her motherhood from her consciousness for her own good, would she regard that as anything but the greatest possible violation, worse than anything in Voldemort’s power?
Then a character who is ostensibly working for Voldemort, but who (I understand) will ultimately be revealed as a double agent on the side of good, provides Voldemort with secret information leading to an ambush in which a major good supporting character is killed and others are seriously wounded — and it could easily have gone worse. Even Harry could have been killed. Does this make sense for the double-agent character? Why not just play dumb and let the good guys get away clean?
Harry’s friends move him to a safe house that we’re told is protected by such powerful defensive magic that a frontal attack wouldn’t be practical. Then there’s a wedding, and the reception is held in a tent right outside the house, with any number of good wizards and witches in attendance — and the Death Eaters swoop in and wreak havoc, and Harry barely escapes. Oh. It was only the physical structure of the house that was protected? They couldn’t have put even provisional defenses around the tent? All those magical types in one place, and the Death Eaters can attack with impunity?
Too much feels haphazard. Stuff happens, and later other stuff happens, and in between there’s a lot of moody standing around and angst and stuff. There’s very little action or spectacle — a couple of chase scenes, a couple of showdowns, and not much more. What’s more, where the first chase involves seven parallel chases, the story only follows Harry — which means that the major supporting character dies offscreen. He deserved better.
I always wished the earlier movies had more room for the characters to breathe and interact. Now, with the direness of the situation looming over them, they’re as constrained in inaction as in the perpetual motion of previous outings. With few respites, such as a sweetly platonic (and plausibly dorky) dance between Harry and Hermione, our three heroes are so mopey that we can’t really enjoy them any more than they’re enjoying themselves or one another.
To be fair, for much of the time, their black mood is aggravated by an insidious Horcrux — a magical bauble with a piece of Voldemort’s soul in it — that the three have to keep until they figure out how to destroy it. It’s like Frodo and Sam suffering under the debilitating influence of the One Ring, but without the relief of parallel storylines in Rohan and Gondor, and without a journey with a destination: just the two of them camping in limbo with the Ring slowly eating their souls. Not much fun.
Added to that is the youthful angst of Ron and Hermione’s tempestuous (non)relationship and Ron’s jealousy of Harry, whom it’s always been all about. With all the standing around agonizing about who loves who, I kept feeling I should be watching the penultimate Twilight movie instead of the penultimate Harry Potter movie. I would have sworn the scene in which Ron has a dark vision of Harry and Hermione in a nude lip-lock (yeah, that just didn’t happen, but you saw it anyway) came from the mind of Stephenie Meyer rather than Rowling.
It doesn’t help that Hermione is, by her own admission, always mad at Ron — and irritated, since he’s always doing and saying the wrong thing. And even when he does the right thing, he did the wrong thing before, so she’s still mad at him — really mad, not cute mad. Makes for about as much chemistry and tension as Anakin and Amidala. This sort of thing has always been a problem in the previous films, but we were never asked to care so much before. Ron needed a dash of self-confidence and self-respect; Hermione needed a touch of inner conflict. This is “Romance 101,” people.
Harry, alas, is as passive as ever. Hermione, not Harry, is the driving force. No sooner have Harry’s friends gotten him to the safe house than Harry starts to walk off in a random direction. No one else is going to die because of me, he tells Ron. Oh. It’s better that the character in question should have died in vain? The point was to get him to the safe house, right? On the plus side, the scene is one of Ron’s better moments.
I’m sure that this review will bring Harry-heads out of the woodwork to explain to me why Hermione’s de-parenting of her parents was necessary and justified; what the double-agent Death-Eater — Why am I being coy? Y’all know who it is — was thinking when he set up Harry’s friends for an ambush; what the approved term for “Harry-heads” is (I decided against “Pott-heads”); and so on.
Maybe if you’re immersed in the franchise, it all makes perfect sense.
Whatever. A movie that doesn’t work better than this for a casual, reasonably informed viewer is a failure, in my book. Someone coined the term “mythology-bound” for franchise films that get so wrapped up in their own histories that they forget to tell an engaging story about likable characters. I think it was me.
Register film critic Steven D. Greydanus is editor and chief critic at Decent Films.
He also blogs at NCRegister.com.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Fantasy action, menace and frightening images, including a magical torture/execution scene and offscreen torture of another character; bloody aftermath of a battle; romantic complications, including a gauzy vision of two characters kissing in the nude (nothing graphic); at least one profanity. Teens and up.