And so the saga ends, and ends relatively well. The final installment in the film series based off of JK Rowling's beloved books was fast paced, energetic, pretty, fun, full of rewarding moments and some great effects and set pieces. I enjoyed myself immensely. I only wish it hadn't thrown into such sharp relief how poor her overall plotting and the structure of our heroes' journies were. After a very long conversation with a smart movie-going friend who hasn't read the books, and doing my fair share of defending the events because of the things he didn't know about but agreeing with much of what he was saying, I sat on it all for a day and decided to swing by the ol' blog and put some of this out there for posterity's sake.
For the record, this post is going to be NOTHING BUT SPOILERS. It's also going to be very critical of the last book/movie's plot and have a lot of wishful thinking in it.
It's fair that you know this about me: The only thing I hate more than the 6th and 7th HP books is the 3rd HP movie. And like, nazis. Focusing on the wizarding world of Harry Potter, though, it's books 6 and 7 and movie 3. Everything in Order of the Phoenix seems to be unraveling, messy and scattered and desperate. At the time of my first reading the 5th book, I thought this was an intentional stylistic choice: The style and structure of the book reflected the state of the world and the character's lives.
Now I... don't think that. Books 6 and 7 made me rethink that.
It is additionally only fair to say that I have only read those books once. I sat down and read each one, cover to cover, on the mornings of their release. I scowled furiously at the pages to will them into being interesting, into making sense, into not just introducing a continual stream of characters and items that I hadn't heard of and didn't know or care about, but all I did was give myself a headache and a worry mark that has yet to fade. I have not revisited them since.
The problems I have with the final film, however, are largely descended from problems in those books.
Nothing really changes. A lot of people die, which is sad (not that you can tell that from the actions of anyone on screen after a buffer of about 10 seconds post mortem), but because EVERYTHING is about Harry's life and Voldemort's defeat, once those are addressed.... we don't get to see any lasting changes in the characters (except who they had babies with and what their hair color is and what their names are God I hate the epilogue, and except Neville, kind of, more on that below).
Ron isn't there. Oh, he's in almost every scene, standing around, looking a bit glum and confused, but he doesn't do anything in the entire movie. He didn't really do anything in the last one but it was okay because of ring-bearer syndrome, and the fact that we still had one movie left to go. I don't remember if this is accurate to the book or not, but was he a total waste of space there, too? Here is a case of the film, being a film, needing something more than what the book gave us, if so. Not even that much. Yes, he should have been doing a lot in the final installment- and we'll talk about that in a sec and, again, also, NEVILLE- but all it really would have taken is a single scene.
Harry tells Ron and Hermione he has to go (commit suicide by Voldemort). Hermione starts crying and hugging him and begging him not to and saying good-bye. Ron stands stupidly in the background, watching them with a blank face and uncomfortable posture. What should have happened then: As Harry pulls away and starts down the stairs, Ron says aloud, "I don't understand. What does he mean?" Hermione, still crying, knowing Ron knows but just won't let himself see it says something to the effect of "Oh, Ron, he has to do this. He has to." Ron, still bewildered and half-numb from the shock of his brother's extremely recent death, frowns and pushes forward past her, after Harry, saying "No, no way in hell is he going off alone. He can't go alone. I won't let him." It falls to Hermione to stop him, trying to tell him there's nothing left for them to do, that they have to let him face it by himself (even though this is ridiculous and there is no way they would ever have let him go alone if it weren't for Nagini, which renders the snake little more than a device to accomplish separating the trio).
Ron then breaks down, with a protest to the effect of "We can't, we can't, we can't let him go, not him too. I won't let him go, not him, too," and then falls apart crying which means Hermione has to get steely and be their rock, the way she always is. This doesn't weaken Ron- it shows him to be a) devastated and wounded possibly beyond repair, b) a true friend who would never abandon Harry, and c) not a cardboard cutout stapled to a mannequin. Ron does NOTHING in this movie and it is a goddamn shame, because it cements the fact that the films and their message are no longer about friendship, they're just about Dealing With Harry's Shit.
Neville is a Bad Ass. Just like we always knew he would be. I loved getting to see it. I loved that he was funny, I loved that he was sweet, I loved that he was totally manning up and being a leader in Harry's absence. He gave good taunt, he gave good but misplaced speech, he gave good sword-wielding. The only problem is.... it should have been Ron. In the books, we've known Neville was destined for great things. We knew the Dark Lord could have marked Neville as his equal, we knew Neville kept every gum wrapper his daft mum ever gave him, we knew Neville had secret depths, reserves of strength and will that would blossom into awesomeness when the occasion called. And it did, and he did, and it was great. In the movies, though, Neville isn't set up to take the spotlight. He's not the one constantly being overshadowed by Harry's celebrity and skill, but hanging in as a good friend, regardless- that's Ron. Yes, Neville is a Gryffindor, not the misplaced Hufflepuff everyone thought him to be, and he proves it through and through. However, the emotional impact of Neville standing up to Voldemort and saying Harry would live on in their hearts along with all the others they'd lost along the way is nowhere near as great as it would have been had Ron stepped forward, told everyone that Harry had never given up and neither would they, that even with Harry gone they would all keep fighting to the bitter end because it was the right thing to do, and lifted up the sword of Gryffindor and led the charge.
It just would have meant more.
The Malfoys Suck except Narcissa. Woman had one concern and one concern only and when she had achieved her goal, she bounced. Draco didn't redeem himself by Not Doing Anything Effectively. Failure should not count as Redemption. He just sucked at everything and so skated by as Not Quite As Evil As Everyone Else Here. Lucius should have died. More importantly, Lucius should have died defending a defiant Draco. When they told him to cross the line in the sand, Draco should have been like "No," and Voldemort should have been like "Like I care, you're such a waste, avada kedavra," and Lucius should have apparated into the path of the death beam to save his son's life and incite both him and his mother to action. LOOK, SUDDENLY THE MALFOYS ARE HEROES. And maybe if this had happened, Tom Felton wouldn't have looked like a gross weirdo in the epilogue. Maybe he would have fake-aged better.
Dumbledore Family Feud is a thing, apparently, but that's all you'll ever know. ALBUS WAS A MANIPULATIVE USER WITH A DARK PAST. The.... end. If you had to use a flashback, Yates, that would have been the time. This movie could EASILY and very SUCCESSFULLY have been another 45 minutes long, and fifteen of that could have been a journey into Albus Dumbledore's past. For real. The cost of the decision he makes about Harry that we discover, the lengths he went through to get the Elder Wand, the reason he went after the Resurrection Stone- none of that is in the movies because all we get is Aberforth the goat lover being angry, the end.
Lupin's Imaginary Son or, more overwhelmingly, the complete inability of the last two movies to convey any sense of the passage of time. Christmas happened. I know, because Hermione told Harry 'Happy Christmas' in a graveyard. But how the hell did we go from a passing hint that Tonks was preggers in 1H7 to her and Lupin having a kid and her being on her feet in fighting form in 2H7. I mean, did I know about it? Yeah, I read the books. But I had no sense whatsoever that it had been more than 9 months from what I was being shown. Suddenly makes all those sweeping panoramic views of Hogwarts changing seasons in the earlier flicks seem like a brilliant use of screen time. That's another scene I desperately wanted rewritten, and it would have gone as follows:
Harry: But Lupin, your son-
Ghost Lupin: It's all right, Harry. Someday he'll-
Ghost Sirius: Just a bloody moment, your what?
Ghost Lupin: Oh. Ah, well, Sirius, Nymphadora and I-
Ghost Sirius: My cousin? You knocked up my cousin?!
Ghost James: Atta boy, Moony!
Ghost Lupin: James, please don't exacerbate things.
Ghost Sirius: You pervy bastard, she's half our age! And you're gay!
Ghost James: ....wait, what-
Ghost Lilly: :\
Harry: Wow, I'm running late here, gotta go guys, thanks for the pep talk.
Voldemort Is Stupid. Just in general. How he gets awesomely fucked up GREAT villains like Bellatrix Lestrange and Barty Crouch Jr. to be his loyal pets is seriously beyond me. Starting in the 5th installment, all Voldemort literally does is get weaker.
Voldemort Should Have Possessed All Three Deathly Hallows because if he doesn't, what the fuck is the point? As it happens, between the two of them, Harry and Dumbledore had ALL THREE. AT THE SAME TIME. BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED, I AM not appearing in these books. Okay, so we have the Hallows assembled and.... nothing happens with them, really, at all. Fine. Voldemort gets his hands one one of them, and by the rules of wand lore and dueling, it's not even really his. So the Hallows are worth precisely................... nothing. They're totally pointless except to have sent Harry on a wild fucking goose chase through the woods and kept him camping, literally camping. In a tent. For the better part of a year. Wha-whu-WHY? If Voldemort had all three Hallows, wouldn't that be a little more intimidating?! Wouldn't that be something they really had to defeat, someone who was suddenly supposedly unkillable? This ties directly into the additional fact that Nagini Dies Last and it's a terrible idea. The trio needed to go after every horcrux they knew about. Their entire quest is a quest for information on how to defeat the Dark Lord. So imagine this: The Dark Lord is searching for the Hallows while the trio's searching for the Horcruxes. The trio destroys all but one: Nagini, the snake who never leaves his side. They now know their only hope for defeating Voldemort, who wields the three most powerful magical artifacts in existence, is to confront him directly and kill that snake. So they do so.
And Voldemort doesn't die. Neither, however, does he manage to kill Harry. The trio and whoever's left in their army flee, crushed and desperate and confused. Voldemort, furious that the Elder Wand is not bowing to his will and augmenting his power as it should, has his confrontation with Snape. Kills Snape, feels invincible because now he truly possesses the Deathly Hallows, yay him. The trio, knowing they're missing something vital here, do much as they did in the book/movie and spy on Snape's death, get the tears, go to the pensive etc. This makes the final battle so much more epic. First off, as the troops are rallying and recovering, it gives Harry time to ruminate on who Snape was to him, who Snape was to his family, the magnitude of what Snape has done and given up not only out of his love for Lilly, but out of his love for Harry, the last piece of her to survive. It also gives him time to wrestle with the idea that Dumbledore betrayed him. It also means that when the Hogwarts crew takes the field of battle the last time, they know two things: First off, that Voldemort thinks he's invincible because he posses the Deathly Hallows, and secondly that Harry is the last horcrux, and Harry must die. It makes everyone complicit in his sacrifice and it makes the magnitude of his death much, much greater. When Voldemort kills Harry in front of both armies, has his moment of boasting, and then Harry comes back and finishes Voldemort off with everyone's favorite locked-magic-wand-beams-going-kablooey move, it's like.... holy crap, man. That's huge. It also proves the Deathly Hallows to be what they are, which is mere shadows of power, not true mastery of death. If any or all of them are destroyed in that final confrontation, so much the better.
As things stand, the shape of events are.... less than epic. They're an ending, surely, but people don't get their due or their chance to be better or rise above or come back. It was okay in the books- all the characters got enough page time that I never noticed them sucking. Things were scattered and confused, and I had difficulty following what exactly was happening why, when- but compressed and put onto a movie screen, all that stuff just becomes glaring, like a sharp, thick blue line of lens flare.
Sorry, JJ, but seriously, enough now.
I clapped and cheered and enjoyed the hell out of a lot of what I saw. I thought a lot of scenes were extremely effective: Seeing Fred being cornered by that Death Eater, reaching for his wand, and knowing he won't make it. The most sympathetic blind dragon in the universe getting his freedom. Ron and Hermione's kiss. Perfection. But even with a movie as well executed as this, it just made me see how poorly executed the events of the books were, in the end.
But they're all going to be bajillionaires, so who gives a crap what I think?
Next up: Comic-Con and CAPTAIN AMERICA (fuck yeah).