The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most consistently engaging franchises in Hollywood. With the sole exception of Order of the Phoenix, I would recommend each and every one. However, all have their faults. While fans and critics alike have praised them as tremendous entertainment, I’ve found most of them to be no more than slightly above average. The newest installment and beginning of the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, is no better and no worse than the rest of the series. For everything it fixes, it breaks something and in trying to keep things fresh, it loses much of its charm.
My confusion began as soon as the movie started. Not being a rabid fan of the series, I’ve only seen the other entries once or twice. I haven’t kept up with its extensive mythology and its deep cast of characters left me more than a little befuddled. When it begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is left alone after his foster parents move out. Hermione (Emma Watson) has seemingly erased herself from her parent’s memories. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is meeting with his gang of misfits to figure out a way to kill Harry. And then about a dozen other characters pop up to rescue Harry and whisk him away to safety. These events happened quickly and I wasn’t sure why, but credit is due to the filmmakers who make the story that follows manageable even for those who aren’t familiar with the prior movies.
Essentially, the story follows Harry, Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) as they attempt to find and destroy a number of artifacts called Horcruxes. However, this plot takes the kids away from Hogwarts and sets them off on an adventure alone. While I appreciate the darker tone of this entry, it’s missing the whimsy of other installments. It has more of a focus on the trio, but part of the fun of the series has always been watching the eccentric teachers and other colorful characters that roam the halls of Hogwarts. This movie has none of them. The large cast of characters that show up at the beginning of the movie disappear until the end (if they even come back at all) and the humor and fun disappears along with them.
What really hurts the movie, however, is its build to nothing. As evidenced by the “Part 1” at the end of the title, this story is being broken up into two movies, so what happens is that it trucks along for two and half hours only to abruptly end without any type of payoff. The setup for the next film is intriguing and I can’t wait to see it, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this story is left unfinished.
As with the previous movies, Part 1 looks good. The assured direction and gorgeous cinematography are wonderful. It carries an appropriately dark, unearthly look. This distinct visual style works wonders for the film and is complimented by an amazing animated segment explaining the origin of the deathly hallows, a welcome change of pace from a scene that would have otherwise been boring exposition.
Although I obviously haven’t seen Part 2 yet, I feel like the two movies will be comparable to Kill Bill: good separate, but something special together. I don’t mind the slow build if you give me a reason for it, but as a standalone movie, which is the only way it can be judged right now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is satisfying, but fails to transcend into greatness.