What’s the Story?
Really? You’re going to make me describe seven films’ worth of backstory? Fine.
When Harry Potter was one, Voldemort tried to kill him. He failed. Now Harry is tracking down the seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul (called horcruxes) and destroying them so that Voldemort can be killed.
What’s the Problem
This is a very well-made film (that’s not the problem, in case you’re lost), especially compared to Half-Blood Prince, which was utterly pointless (as in, the point of the book – to tell you how Tom Riddle became Voldemort and where he might be hiding his soul – was cut out in favour of putting Quidditch and more teenage angst back in.
By contrast, HPatDHp2 hits most of the right notes. They cover their utter ignorance of Voldemort’s psyche by giving Harry the ability to sense where the horcruxes are, which is neat and ecological and even has a plot-centric explanation (rather than him being able to do it because shut up the story demanded it).
So, instead of the usual ramblings, I’ll be focussing this critique on one facet and why I liked it better in the book.
NOTE: THE REST OF THIS CRITIQUE ASSUMES YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK. IT ALSO CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS (*salute* Major Spoilers) FOR BOTH THE BOOK AND THE FILM.
In both the film and the book, there is a weird connection between Voldemort and Harry’s wands (because they have the same core, if I recall). This causes Voldemort to be far less effective in killing Harry than he’d like, and causes the wands to blast light at each other spectacularly.
So spectacularly, in fact, that the film-makers decided to use that effect for every major wand battle (not just with Harry and Voldy), which somewhat ruined the specialness.
And it’s back this time.
Don’t get me wrong; it looks good. And it’s dramatic. But it was supposed to be something unique to them and that was what made it special.
Upon returning to Hogwarts bearing Harry’s supposed corpse, Voldy finds one boy still willing to stand up to him: Neville Longbottom. He lets him rant on about what’s Good and Right and Noble for a while, after which Neville draws the Sword of Griffindor out of a hat he found conveniently lying on the ground nearby (*cough* Deus Ex Machina).
Harry chooses this point to jump to life, at which point everyone shoots at everyone and another fight breaks out. Voldy grabs his snake, Nagini (which contains the last piece of his soul) and chases Harry across Hogwards (with Voldy having marksman accuracy at hitting everything but Harry). Harry holds Voldy back by blocking his spells.
Which kind of makes Harry Voldy’s equal: he can block spells from the most powerful wizard alive. But Harry is not supposed to be special – not any more. Any specialness he had was from having part of Voldy’s soul living inside him. With that killed, he’s just Harry Potter, 17-year-old wizard. He shouldn’t stand a chance against Voldy, and in the book he doesn’t.
Anyway, they battle their way around the place and eventually arrive back in a deserted courtyard, where they do the big liquid-fire wand thing again, as if who wins a magic contest is decided by who wants it more, not who has the most skill.
Meanwhile, Hermione and Ron have been trying (unsuccessfully) to kill Nagini.
At the critical second, Neville rushes in with the Sword of Griffindor and kills it. What he was doing up in the clock tower, far from any of the battles, is never mentioned.
At that moment, Harry wins the liquid-fire wand battle and Voldy not only dies but turns into ash and disappears.
Some time later, Harry explains why he was able to win the fight. Of course, by that stage he’s won the fight so there’s no dramatic tension and no one in the audience cares.
The Final Battle (Book)
Upon returning to Hogwarts bearing Harry’s supposed corpse, Voldy finds a lone boy still willing to stand up to him: Neville Longbottom. To make an example of him, Voldy accios the Sorting Hat from the Great Hall, pops it on Neville’s head, and sets it on fire.
Yep. Rather than let Neville whine on about Good and Right, he sets his head on fire. Now that’s how you do evil!
Anyway, around then Harry jumps to life, which allows Neville to tear the burning hat off his head, grab the Sword of Griffindor from inside it, at which point he cuts off Nagini’s head. Just… you set my head on fire, I cut up your pet snake. No dramatic poses, no big speeches, just action.
There is then some battle, I think, but eventually Harry and Voldy face off, with everyone who is still alive watching on. Harry tells them not to interfere.
They then circle; Voldy not too keen on attacking Harry because, well, he hasn’t done so successfully once in seven books. Harry then explains that Dumbledore’s grand plan was for Harry to destroy all the Horcruxes and for no one to be the master of the Elder Wand, but that that plan failed.
Voldy says yes, because Snape killed Dumbledore and Voldy killed Snape, so Voldy is now its master and will use said wand to kill Harry.
Still circling one another, Harry explains that Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore before Snape killed him, and that Harry disarmed Malfoy and now carries his wand. So, if anyone, Harry is now the Elder Wand’s master and is currently holding the wand that defeated the Elder Wand.
Basically, Harry and Voldy spend a page or two in a Mexican Showdown, just circling and waiting, with everyone else watching on, as Harry explains how he bets that he will defeat the most powerful and dangerous wizard alive not because he’s better or stronger or wants it more, but because he thinks a wand will recognise him.
He’s betting the freedom of the wizarding world on the knowledge of a wand.
Basically, it all comes down to chance. Does the Elder Wand remember that Malfoy defeated Dumbledore? Does it know that Harry bested Malfoy? Does it recognise the wand Harry carries, but not Harry’s right to wield it (and therefore will it remain neutral, in which case Voldy will kill Harry without a problem)?
Does it recognise Harry as its true master, or not?
Voldy bets that he is the master of the Elder Wand and that he can now kill Harry.
Harry bets that the wand will disobey Voldy and come to him if called.
They run out of words, stop circling, strike their poses, fire one shot, and one of them falls down dead. Like a shootout in an old Western.
Because it’s a morality tale, it’s Voldy who falls down dead, his own killing curse reflected back at him by Harry’s disarming curse.
And, in the book, Voldy’s body hits the ground and the crowd lift Harry up and cheer him off, leaving Voldy almost forgotten in the background. After so much killing and being so powerful, in death he is nothing to no one.
That’s why I like the book ending better: because it all comes down to faith.
Because both of them knows all the cards the other is holding, but each still believes he is right.
Because it isn’t a big, flashy ending that utilising new and crazy magics. It’s a simple killing spell versus an even simpler disarm spell. That is, it’s not some last-minute bullshit get-out-of-gaol-free spell.
Because we know exactly what’s happening. It’s been set up for us and we know exactly as much as the players.
Because, in the end, it doesn’t come down to powerful magic, it comes down to ideas. It’s not a big spectacle and a flashy display of power, it’s a battle of intellect and ego.
Deathly Hallows Pt 2 is worth seeing if you’ve seen all the rest.
But then, if you’ve seen all the rest you were going to see it anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what I say one way or the other, does it?
For the record, though…