The opening line of dialogue says it all: “These are dark times.” Those words, gravely uttered by new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (Bill Nighy), not only address what’s going on at the start of the penultimate Harry Potter film, they also set the tone for the whole film.
Sure, there have been plenty of grim and scary moments in previous installments, but there’s something going on here that heightens the fright. Picking up shortly after the demise of a much-beloved character in the previous film, this one kicks off with the vile and evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) chairing a council of villains and announcing that no matter how much someone else might want the task, it is he who will kill Harry Potter.
Ah, but there’s a problem. As stated in the series’ first entry, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and Voldemort have wands with equal powers that can only hurt — not kill — each other. Still, the order is put out to Voldemort’s minions of flying, smoking Death Eaters: Find Potter and bring him to me. Alive.
The best and most exciting film in the series so far starts with that premise, and follows up with a new set of circumstances for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson). Rather than being surrounded and somewhat protected by their friends and teachers and the comforting confines of Hogwarts, they’re on the road, literally on the run, but ever willing to strike back when attacked.
Our trio of heroes has always been the main focus of the story. But their challenge here rests on their vulnerability. Much of their time is spent out in the open, moving across vast landscapes that make them look tiny, perhaps metaphorically hinting they’re in over their heads. Followers of the tale will recall that Harry, Ron and Hermione are on a mission to find and destroy some magical horcruxes, acts that will lead to the defeat of Voldemort. Oh, Hagrid and Mad-Eye and — watch out — the annoying elf Dobby are around for a bit, but when the wizard students take off, they must fend for themselves.
The actors playing them do so with a new maturity not seen in the other films. Both as characters and actors, they’re forced not to be kids anymore. Amid the spectacular chases, the swallowing of potions, the terrifying scenes, the bits of well-placed humor and the nudity (new maturity, remember?), they’re all seen in a new light.
For those who haven’t gobbled up the books before seeing the films, be prepared to keep track of many new names as well as new revelations about older characters. But don’t be concerned with taking notes. At this point in the series, it’s fairly easy to differentiate between good and evil. There’s very little gray area between them. All you’ve really got to know is that Voldemort is determined to kill Harry but, if order is to be restored, Harry must kill Voldemort.
Director David Yates, back for his third (and soon fourth) film, has imbued this one with a mix of full-blown and subtle visual effects, and keeps the pace so swift that the 150 minutes seem to fly by.
This final entry in the J.K. Rowling series is a hefty one, loaded up with so many finalities that to condense it into a single movie would’ve had hardcore fans casting black spells on the filmmakers — hence the split into two. This one builds to a fine and ferocious climax that will leave everyone checking off the days till next July’s conclusion.