During the trailer for the latest Harry Potter film, two noteworthy phrases splash across the screen: “The Finale of the Worldwide Phenomenon” and “The Motion Picture Event of a Generation.” Wow. No pressure or anything. Does the film live up to that kind of hype? Of course not, and even when part two comes out in July and you put the two movies together, this will still feel like one of the lesser Potter flicks.
Shortly after the events of the previous film (the gripping Half-Blood Prince), Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is on the run with his best friends Hermoine (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) while Voldemort (a seriously scary Ralph Fiennes) and his army of evil minions are out for blood. The story incorporates elements from the second film, The Chamber of Secrets (my favorite in the series), with a return appearance by Dobby the Elf as well as other series regulars who mostly stand around like characters in a Disneyland float.
A handful of the Potter movies are good for a simple reason: they connect with audiences on a human level. In the weaker entries, the special effects do all the work, while screenwriters drown you in exposition, shoehorning in every detail for the die-hard fans. No offense to the Pot-heads or Potter-philes or whatever you call yourselves, but your cries of, “It must be a faithful adaptation!” have made every one of these movies at least 30 minutes too long. The films should stand on their own, but they’re so crammed with extraneous details they can only be viewed as what they are: bloated adaptations of phone book-sized novels.
Deathly Hallows frequently starts and stops, and only takes off about an hour in. Once our three leads and their quest become the focus, the movie develops a heart. Otherwise, there are a lot of rushed scenes that will leave audiences asking, “What was that all about?”
If part two is “all action,” as some have said, then part one is a long tease. We get beautiful widescreen photography and a few genuinely stirring moments—like a haunting bit where Potter discovers the graves of his parents—but they’re few and far between. The previous episode hooked me back into the series, but this one is For Fans Only and leaves too many unanswered questions: Will Harry survive? Will Ron and Hermoine declare their love? Is Jacob hotter than Edward? Oh, sorry, wrong overrated franchise.