Split Ends

The Harry Potter franchise lurches toward its final curtain

A flawed decision to split the final installment of the Harry Potter books into two films results in a formless narrative that overstays its welcome.

Despite the slick visual effects that periodically invigorate Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, director David Yates’ overemphasized spectacle merely illustrates the film’s lacking storyline. We understand that Harry is in grave danger but don’t get any sense of his ability or inclination to rescue the human and underground magic worlds from sinister forces if he survives to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. Reigning over the darkest of times, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters rally forces with Rufus Scrimgeour’s (Bill Nighy) Ministry of Magic to track down and kill Harry Potter.

A Nazi-era social climate of fascistic dictatorship rules with public announcements informing Europe’s citizenry: “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.” Harry’s latest birthday coincides with his teaming up with old pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) to find and destroy a number of magic talismans called Horcruxes that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul, thereby killing him once and for all.

Without its familiar setting of Hogwarts to anchor its physical parameters, the movie meanders in and out of disconnected but visually impressive set pieces—as when Harry extracts the sword of Gryffindor from its icy grave.

For much of the time Harry, Ron and Hermione camp out in a patch of rural woods waiting for something to happen. The trio of are too passive to earn any respect beyond what they’ve accrued over the previous six films. They’re like unsupervised kids in desperate need of a chaperone.

The idle sleepover subplot is not without its charms. Harry and Hermione share the film’s most charming scene when they do an impromptu dance together to Nick Cave’s “O Children.” It’s a lighthearted moment that allows the characters to share a momentary dream of romance that is far more tangible than the vague plot.

Prominently missing are the fruits of the previous films’ coming-of-age struggles that marked Harry, Ron and Hermione as creatures of amorous desire. Any flashes of fireworks between Hermione and Ron are muted behind their grumpy exchanges. Instead we get stylistic overtures to horror—a former Hogwarts’ teacher becomes a meal for an especially large snake. Later, Ron incurs a grotesque injury that might challenge young viewers. The film inhabits a moody atmosphere of uncompromising death and decay.

If the filmmakers’ intention was to stay true to J.K. Rowling’s novel by including a wealth of narrative details and visual filigree then they have at least scratched the surface. However, even in a 2 1/2-hours, they haven’t presented a cohesive story.

A stream of cameo appearances from the series’ cannon of familiar faces—such as Brendan Gleeson’s Mad-Eye Moody, Bonnie Wright’s Ginny Weasley, and even a poignant appearance from the miniature elf Dobby—fail to bridge a cold impasse created by a script that repeatedly stalls out.

In such a climatic franchise movie,.there isn’t much room for character development because Yates’ Harry Potter machine tries too hard to be all things to all people.