Perhaps you have heard that the final installment in the Harry Potter series of films has opened — in fact, perhaps you saw it early this morning on one of the 16 screens the Metreon dedicated to the film. Given its ubiquity, it feels somewhat silly to write the normal movie reviewer things like “this film about a boy wizard who must etc etc etc.” because duh, you know.
You know that this is the last of the remarkably successful series of films based on the remarkably successful series of books by JK Rowling. You know that the final book was divided by filmmakers into two films, a move the young man next to me at the screening I attended described as “all about the money,” with Part One of the two part finale being so dark and dreadful that many viewers were left in tears. “Two hours of the saddest stuff you can imagine” my husband said at the time “and then they fucking kill Dobby.”
And that is where we first see Harry in this terrific film, as he rises from the loyal house elf’s grave. You know the drill after that — Harry and his friends must work to destroy the remaining “horcruxes,” items which contain the fragments of Voldemort’s, this franchise’s Big Bad’s, soul.
It’s pretty standard Joseph Campbell bullshit stuff, but we’re invested for a combination of reasons: many of this series’ viewers grew up with Potter (one Marina-bar looking guy in front of me said “I have been waiting for this movie since I was 12”), in the most literal sense. The moment one flashback in the film shows Harry beaming as the sorting hat was first placed on his head upon arriving at Hogwarts, the school for magicians that’s the setting of most of this and the other films, many in the theater gasped, remembering the little boy who was just so happy he didn’t have to live with his aunt and uncle anymore.
The other reason we’re engaged is because it’s just a really good movie, a great yarn. It is difficult to imagine how this film would work as a stand-alone if you were completely unfamiliar with the series, and I didn’t have time to go grab someone from one of those untouched Amazonian tribes to test that out. But as someone who didn’t start reading the book until after I saw the final movie, I was able to follow along just fine.
And the action does not stop, as the three friends go from place to place, landing finally at Hogwarts for a final confrontation with Voldemort and his band of baddies. This is an extraordinarily entertaining film — I was reminded in many ways of the first Matrix movie, in how there never seems to be a moment when you space out, or when you feel like getting up to go to to concession stand.
It’s also worth noting that this is a great looking movie, from the sets to the CG. I saw it in 3D, and I encourage you to as well — it had none of the third-dimension japery of a Jaws 3D or even an Avatar, but the tech made the magic all the more breathtaking.*
Throughout the action, the body count mounts, sometimes in shocking ways. Do not be taken by surprise, parents: this is not a movie for young children, it is filled with the kind of dark and disturbing imagery that makes for a great movie for grownups, but countless sleepless night(mare)s for the under-10 etc.
But the film’s messages are great for older kids, I (a non-parent but former child) feel — the importance of friendship and loyalty is emphasized again and again, as is the power of redemption, the necessity of kindness, and the ugliness of cruelty and war. The battles these young students and their adult friends fight in, especially at the school, don’t seem glorious, they seem awful and scary and the toll is heartbreakingly real.
There is great catharsis in this film, but it is not neat and tidy: there is also terrible and unfair sorrow, as you get to see old friends from the series for but a moment, before they are taken away by tragedy.
That said, as the headline suggests, everyone gets to be a badass. It’s not just Harry who gets to save the motherfucking day, in many cases it’s not even the strongest or smartest or most “chosen” one. And that, too, is an important lesson for us all.
*Speaking as a glasses-wearer, I hate the double-glasses thing 3D movies require, but the Potterish ones used in this case were surprisingly comfortable. I mean, I’m not gonna wear them out or anything, but they didn’t make me crazy the way some do.