Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One

One doesn't really review a Harry Potter film. The best you can hope for is to sidle up, make sure it contains adequate wizardry and a bespectacled hero, and call it good. In that sense, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is good. Quite good, in fact, possibly even great. The fact that it's not a stand-alone movie? Pish posh. The minor detail that there isn't a true story arc? Ah, whaddya gonna do? You could say the Harry Potter franchise is akin to a war elephant. Getting in the way only gets you trampled, for no apparent gain. Better to note the loveliness of the epic animal and the visceral feel of the earth shaking under your feet as she rumbles by.

This film, the seventh and penultimate in the series, wisely focuses on the original power trio that comprises the strength of the franchise. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are cast into a dangerous game (surprise!), battling the forces of Voldemort and his minions in an elemental tale of good versus evil. And whoo boy, what a hand evil has to play this time around. The Potter franchise gets darker each time out, the stakes get higher, the causalities harder to bear. Make no mistake, this is a film that comes by the PG-13 rating honestly, with scenes of terror and sacrifice ratcheting up the tension throughout.

Story-wise, we start out with a logistics session. Harry needs to be moved from his hiding place to an alternate safehouse, but agents of Voldemort are obsessively pursuing him, and they've got spies lurking around every corner, waiting to ensnare the young savior. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 has an action beat every 10 minutes, but the opening one might set the gold standard, director David Yates showing off the majesty of the night sky as blanketed by wizards, witches, and beasts aplenty. I was reminded of the chaos that surrounded the long-gone Quidditch matches at ol' Hogwarts, and how much circumstances had changed since the biggest thing on everyone's mind was merely house pride.

Where the film falters is through the calculated exclusion of anyone not already steeped in Harry Potter lore. You'll need to come in emotionally invested, though the chances of that are solid if you've read this far. Newcomers need not apply, as the whole affair would likely come off as a blustery exercise without prior knowledge of the books or films. However, this is a reasonable problem to have, given the final book was split into two movies. It must have been an impossible task to form a smaller and self-contained narrative where none previously existed within the source material.

Still, there is much to love about this Potter. There are heartstrings pulled, and the chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint has blossomed into something more than friendship meeting contractual requirements. The gang knows where the weaknesses are, and how to play to everyone's strengths -- one could make the case that a decade and eight films has finally shown us a true melding of emotional evolution and shared suffering. Additionally, the film features an animated sequence of amazing quality (seriously, it's spectacular), a tiny nugget of artistry buried amidst the live-action Potter mania.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One might be awkwardly titled and strangely paced, but you'll still find much value in the raw entertainment power generated.

Grade: B