It has been nearly a decade since the first Harry Potter film was released and in that time we’ve seen the cast grow into adults. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) has to shave, and Rupert Grint (Ron) could play for a rugby team. How fitting that these children-turned-adults bring one of the best, most thematically adult installments into the franchise.
You’re either caught up with the Harry Potter storyline, or you need to begin with the first film, and director David Yates proceed accordingly. Time is not wasted re-introducing characters we’ve seen for six films, as it jumps straight into the darkening world we left off with at the end of Half-Blood Prince. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are by themselves trying to locate and destroy the other six Horcruxes (Tom Riddle’s diary from Chamber of Secrets being the first) in order to kill Lord Voldemort.
Getting these characters alone is the best thing to ever happen to the Harry Potter saga. They are no longer at Hogwarts, dodging professors as they sneak out of their dorms after curfew. Now, the stakes are much higher: not only could the trio be killed, they could also bring torture and death upon the friends and relatives who aid them. You can’t help but think of Nazi Germany and of neighbors turning in their “undesirable” neighbors (“mudbloods” in Harry Potter‘s case), especially since the Ministry of Magic security teams bear the red arm bands and jackboots.
Further, romantic tensions that have been building between the three are finally confronted: Hermione is no longer a silly girl to the gents, but someone who can ignite jealousy. Yates plays with this tension and highlights their lost natures – well, the boys at least (Hermione is still stuck playing den mother). Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are finally given some material to chew on, and they do a decent job. Most of the film rests on these characters spending time in the woods not knowing what to do – and they are able to support this drudgery.
Which ultimately is both a blessing and a curse for Deathly Hallows Part 1. In Warner Bros.’ attempt to milk the Harry Potter films for all they’re worth, the final book has been split into two parts. This allows for a run time less packed with breathless action, and more focused on character development. Seeing how these characters deal with their messy situations offers connectivity with the audience that has heretofore been absent from the series (due to writing faux pas as much as to acting issues). This opportunity for more thoughtful pacing is positive; however, the meandering leads to an ending even less climactic than the previous film. It’s as if someone walked on set and said, “Okay, we’re done for the day.” Sure, it’s part 1 of 2, but you still have to leave the audience with something that makes them feel like their time was spent seeing something building up toward a goal- instead, the chapter just fizzles to a stop.
Despite these issues, it is a quality film. The amazing thing about the Harry Potter films has been the amount of work put into creating a believable world. You’ll be dazzled by the elaborate real, not CGI, sets (the Ministry of Magic lobby is impressive) and the wand shootout toward the beginning felt like a piece from a cop film. Even in areas where the proverbial ball gets fumbled (writing, story, acting), the tangibility of the world keeps it together (are you listening Mr. Lucas?).
If you think this is just a kids’ movie, think again: Most of the film is filled with talking and an extremely awkward CGI Hermione-Harry makeout scene. And though the film interrupts moments of perfect gravitas with wisecracks to provide levity for this bleak film, in the end it stands as one of the best Harry Potter films.*
*Alfonso Cuaron’s directorial work with Prisoner of Azkaban is the best, Goblet of Fire stands as an atrocious piece of trash