Mr. Wizard

Aided by nuanced performances and a rich plot, director David Yates delivers big in the penultimate ''Harry Potter''

You’re a tease, Harry Potter. That’s right, you heard me. A great big wizard tease. Just when things really get rolling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the reminder that it’s only Part 1 is made glaringly clear when the credits start to roll. It’s like finding a glumbumble or pogrebin in your bed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

And the worst reason it’s so painful when Deathly Hallows ends? The film is so good that waiting another eight months for the final installment seems like a punishment only Dolores Umbridge would dole out. Or Professor Snape on a really bad day. If none of these references make sense, then you’ve probably not seen the six prior films and need not apply for admission to Hogwarts, you Muggle. But for the wizard lovers out there, get ready to party like it’s the Yule Ball, because director David Yates delivers big in the penultimate “Harry Potter” film.

From the first scene, it’s clear that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) — not to mention the franchise — has grown up. The wizarding world has been devastated by the return of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and these are dark times, indeed. The body count starts to rack up within minutes, and it’s not sugar-coated. In fact, theoretically, tears might just be conjured in the audience three times in the first 30 minutes alone.

Having lost his mentor at the end of the last film, the responsibility to find and destroy the horcruxes that contain Voldemort’s soul rests with Harry and his BFF’s Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Which is practically more backstory than the film bothers to provide. Having faced He-Who-Must’-‘Not-Be-Named (or, He Without a Nose, thanks to CGI rhinoplasty) many times prior, Harry realizes that anyone around him stands in the line of wand-fire, so the trio head out on their own.

Here is where author J.K. Rowling’s book lagged; the three kids tramped through the woods for what seemed like ages. Screenwriter Steve Kloves mitigates this drudgery a little, but after the film’s high-energy beginning, the wilderness feels a little tame.

Still, when Yates has some substance to work with, he really makes some magic. Free to embrace the darker side of Harry’s world, Yates incorporates some truly suspenseful scenes that are likely to give the little ones nightmares. However, it’s how he slyly and seamlessly weaves the mystical elements into the film that make the little touches all the more charming for their unpretentious nature.

Yet even with the strong visuals, finally, after six years at Hogwarts, the special effects are able to take a backseat to the plot and the acting. Where Radcliffe used to clutch at Harry’s iconic forehead scar and spout exposition to move the plot along, now he’s capable of adding real nuances and depth to the part. It’s a darker story that requires more gravitas, and Radcliffe brings it. Speaking of being a tease, Yates has Radcliffe strip down to his underwear numerous times; in fact, thanks to some Polyjuice Potion, sometimes multiple times in the same shot. (Perhaps a page from the ”Twilight” script was mixed in.) As his loyal friends, Watson and Grint are also steadfast companions, though just like Hermione and Ron and spell casting, Watson has outpaced Grint when it comes to acting.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1
starstarstarstar
Starring
Daniel Radcliffe,
Ralph Fiennes
Rated PG-13
146 Minutes
Opens Friday,
Nov. 19
Area Theaters

Given the solitude of the kids for much of the film, many of the beloved teachers don’t get to make appearances, like Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) or Sybill Trelawney (Emma Thompson). However, the embodiment of evil, Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) is represented in vivid form. Never one to shy away from an outrageous role, Carter ensures that Bellatrix is quite the… well, it rhymes with witch.

Some of the more complicated aspects of the books, the horcruxes, the Elder Wand, the Deathly Hallows, are fairly well explained, which is a marked improvement over the books. Additionally, Kloves and Yates ensure that it’s not all doom and gloom for the trio. Both scenes involving the transforming Polyjuice Potion are humorous, and there’s just a hint of the romance that’s to follow.

The quality of the film, the solid plotting, the suspense, and clear exposition ensure that rather than dragging on a story too long, we’re allowed to revel in it. Most importantly, what this fine balance of the elements really justifies is the decision to break the final story into two parts. For as painful as the wait may be, many are not ready to say goodbye just yet. But if Part 2 delivers on the promise of Part 1, it’s going to be one stellar farewell.

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