‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’ Is Still Great (‘Part 1’ Is Still Not Great)
Leading up to the 15th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on November 16, we’re looking back on the series and rewatching one movie each week to see how they hold up.
Seven weeks, eight movies, 19 hours and 40 minutes later, and I’ve completed my Harry Potter rewatch marathon. I’ve been a fan of these movies since the beginning, but I hadn’t sat down to revisit them in years. It was a different experience to give each movie my undivided attention each week instead of catching bits and pieces during those commercial-filled Freeform marathons. So do I still love the series as much as I did before? Does it deserve to be one of the most popular movie franchises of all time? And what, you ask, is my final Harry Potter movie ranking? Before I get there, let’s talk about The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2.
Harry Potter was the first series to split a novel adaptation into two movies, a format that’s become the norm for many fantasy franchises, from Twilight to The Hunger Games to The Hobbit. For a 759-page book as thick with details and subplots as J.K. Rowling’s final Potter novel was, that decision made sense. But the way it was executed is one of the biggest errors of the franchise.
I really do not like The Deathly Hallows Part 1. I dislike it so much I ranked it below Prisoner of Azkaban, only slightly ahead of Chamber of Secrets. Give or take a few good sequences and one memorable death, the film might be the most boring and cloying installment in the franchise. I’m all for splitting the final novel into two parts, and think it’s necessary to avoid a 3-hour movie, but Part 1‘s biggest flaw is how it manages its 146-minute runtime. The movie spends an eternity following Harry and Hermione on their camping trip, which only takes up two chapters of the book. That screen time could’ve been better utilized to tell Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s backstory (which is entirely cut from the movie) or devote more time to Harry’s visions of Voldemort and Gregorovitch. The other Potter films did a great job explaining details to non-book readers, but this film passes over major plot points so hastily I’d be amazed if the average viewer could keep up.
Deathly Hallows Part 1 also loses sight of the emotional maturity that’s been developed over the previous two installments. The Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince challenged their main characters with a believable mix of major and minor anxieties and vulnerabilities. But in Part 1 their emotions feel childish and forced, and Ron and Harry reach peak annoying. These two become so insufferable you get the sense Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint were fed up with the franchise by this point. Their irrational outbursts make sense within the logic of the narrative (the result of wearing the horcrux locket), but their anger and moodiness feel closer to that of bratty teenagers than young adults tasked with defeating a villain. And then there’s that awful Harry and Hermione’s dance scene
Oh boy, I hate this scene. It’s not in the book and it’s not believable. Would Harry actually ask Hermione to dance? Would their faces linger so close together as if to finally kiss? No! We’ve spent six movies with these two and the Half-Blood Prince already injected a (totally unnecessary) scene where Harry clarifies his platonic feelings for Hermione. This scene, like a lot of the Harry and Ginny scenes in HBP, feel like screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates adding in some Twilight-esque sappy teen romance to please the YA audience. I understand that rationale, but it undermines many of the existing emotional dynamics.
There are some things I like about Deathly Hallows Part 1, though. The opening Polyjuice Potion sequence brings a sense of humor to the movie before things turn dark (and I love Radcliffe’s impressions of the other characters). The animated Tale of the Three Brothers sequence is one of the most gorgeous parts of the franchise, and of course, there’s second-most upsetting death in the series (R.I,P. Dobby.) Somehow that little CGI elf makes me cry every time.
After all the camping and weeping of Part 1, Part 2 picks up the momentum right away. As the shortest film in the franchise, the final installment swiftly builds to the final battle, while covering more ground and revealing more plot twist than Deathly Hallows 1. It’s also telling that two of the three best movies in the franchise are the shortest; this one and Order of the Phoenix, which clocks in at 138 minutes.
We get tons of action in this movie, but Yates also breaks away from the duels and explosions to remind us of the importance of these characters’ individual journeys. We see it in small moments like Professor McGonagall’s (Maggie Smith) thrill at using the Piertotum Locomotor spell, or Hermione’s shock at Ron coming up with a good plan, and bigger ones like Neville’s heroic monologue. As much as these movies were about Harry’s fight against Voldemort, the final film celebrates the minor characters and how much they’ve helped him along the way.
Part 2 is an ideal close to the series because it recalls the beginning of the franchise. Much of that is largely due the themes of Rowling’s final book, but Yates brings back some quintessential Potter set pieces from the earlier movies. In Part 2 we return to Gringotts where Harry & Co. take a ride on the speeding carts – a huge improvement both stylistically and visually from Harry’s first visit in Sorcerer’s Stone. The trio breaks out of the bank on the back of a dragon, which is a nice visual nod to Harry’s ride atop Buckbeak over the Great Lake in Azkaban. Near the end of the film Ron and Hermione return to the Chamber of Secrets to destroy Hufflepuff’s Cup with a basilisk fang. And later all three return to the Room of Requirement, which we first saw in Order of the Phoenix. Part of the joy of watching the final Potter film is how it weaves in these callbacks to the previous movies. When we get to the end, it truly feels like the completion of a journey.
If I’ve realized anything during my Harry Potter rewatch, it’s how well these movies built a world that remains distinct and memorable today. When I revisited Half-Blood Prince I wrote that these films stand in such contrast to the tentpoles that fill movie theaters today, and much of the credit for that belongs to Rowling’s source material. Unlike the Star Wars films, which jumped between timelines and characters, or the sprawling Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, Harry Potter followed a singular coming-of-age story across nearly 20 hours of filmmaking. Not all of it was great, some of it is worth skipping, and it took nearly four movies for the series to really find its groove. But watching it today, Harry Potter still holds up as one of the most original and creative film franchises in history.
- I sometimes forget we lost Alan Rickman this year. While he gave numerous memorable performances across his career, his Snape was one of the best characters of these movies.
- I love Helena Bonham Cater’s Bellatrix-as-Hermione-as-Bellatrix.
- I remember being in the midnight screening of Part 2 and the entire audience erupting in cheers at Molly’s defeat of Bellatrix. It’s still one of the best deaths of the finale.
- The first three Twilight movies had come out by the time Part 2 opened and you can (unfortunately) see their effect on how the movie stylizes the Snatchers.
- That dead bloody Voldemort baby in King’s Cross heaven still creeps me out.
- The one thing about Part 2 that was bad in the first place is still pretty awful: the epilogue. Points for effort?
Final Harry Potter Movie Ranking:
1. Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince
2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets