Harry Potter Retrospective Part V: David Yates & the Phoenix Ordering Half-Deathly Hallows

So, we have reached the end of our retrospective. As I mentioned last time, this final examination of the last four films in the Harry Potter franchise was going to be truncated. As one could tell by how sporadic these updates were, other activities took up my time and distracted me from doing this regularly. So, I decided to pack all of the continued analysis into one article. There is at least an appropriate reasoning for connecting all of these beyond the obvious franchise umbrella. All of these films were directed by David Yates, who also returned to the franchise with the prequel series Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (which you can read my review of in that link). Yates’s previous career was mostly limited to British television before he directed Order of the Phoenix. Yet, he managed to take the influence from the work Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron & Mike Newell did with the first half of the franchise and formed the aesthetic of that would close the series… which mostly involved muted colors.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but it’s probably the lasting element that carried over as far as style is concerned. Many a Harry Potter fan has attempted to justify the timeline of the books (which take place throughout the 90s, hence explaining why no one has cell phones) as the same era in the films. Yet, while hints of modernism existed in the earlier four films, Yate’s introduction firmly trounced that the moment Dudley starts scoffing against Harry in his mid-2000s era British chav wear. The sleek modern touch Yates brought appropriately places the oncoming threat of Voldemort into a landscape us Muggle viewers can fret about. Yet, he still doesn’t forget the fantastical world we grew to love. There’s still plenty of wonder and magic to be found, but the bleak circumstances make it those flourishes all the more magic. But let’s stop talking vague.

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Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

While Goblet of Fire mainly focused on the society of the wizarding world crumbling apart under the surface, Order of the Phoenix is about Harry and his adopted family coming closer together. By this point, most of the story takes place outside of any classroom. We’ve moved to the corridors and crevices outside the realm of possibility, allowing people like Sirius Black and the Weasley family to feel even closer to Harry than ever before in the dark recesses of The Order. Harry helps save Mr. Weasley’s life and Sirius confides in Harry his utmost desire to give the boy a proper home. Harry forms a resistance group to fight off the threat no one in government is willing to admit. These bonds tighten here so they can be broken apart by outside forces and emotional destroy the audience emotionally.

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Such outside forces include the best of the Potterverse’s secondary antagonists Professor Dolores Umbridge. Played to cheeky passive aggressive majesty by Imelda Staunton, Umbridge represents everything that’s wrong with the Ministry of the Potterverse. She’s a snake in a pink facade. Behind her cheeky smile and exuberant attitude is a vicious racist attitude of old trying to suppress any sort of rebellion. Right from the moment where she punishes Harry, we know this woman’s cheeky attitude is a ruse to keep control. We also get a glimpse into the cold, titled decour of the Ministry of Magic for the first time, giving us a sleek modern visage of bureaucracy that rules over this world with iron clad precision. It’s the perfect reasoning for Harry to start Dumbledore’s Army, an action that shows just how down hill the rule of the Wizarding World has gone and promotes Harry to an actual place of action as the “Chosen One.”

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Still, these forces destroying the world aren’t as effective as the forces destroying the family Harry has built. The death of Sirius Black shouldn’t be nearly as brutal as it feels. We’ve only seen this character maybe thirty minutes of screentime, but Gary Oldman pulls out the right balance of headstrong dedication and warm compassion to make every word feel organic. When he assures Harry that he can stay with him, there’s not a shred of dishonesty there. It’s a warm small emotional moment that’s broken by Bellatrix in brutal fashion. Yates also gives Oldman a quiet ghostly exit that literally sucks out the sound. It’s the perfect emotional climax to unravel the delusion that things are alright in the Wizarding World. The thing that shatters any hope Harry had of having a normal home, leading to one of the more impressive duels in the series thanks to David Yates’ fight choreography. Truly, Order of the Phoneix takes the context of the book and adds much more engrossing emotional heart tugging to it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Pissed Off Centaurs

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Harry Potter And the Half Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is filler. Order of the Phoenix already firmly set us up to have Harry and his friends are tasked to fight off against Voldemort. That the entire Wizarding World would have to face off against him. Yet, we need to have another year long school story that’s barely even a story here just to get to the one moment that was so memorable it became a meme: Snape Kills Dumbledore. To be fair, the book this is based on was full of plenty of filler and even then the moment in question is well handled, mainly thanks to Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon‘s performances & Yates’ green tinted look that gives the film an extended sense of corpse shades dread. Still, this doesn’t make up for being treated to a lot more of the flighty teenage drama here, mainly with Hermione and Ron being confrontational over their love life pursuits. This isn’t like the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, which felt like a genuine empass of awkward teenage hormones. This just seemed like some sitcomish wackiness that feels excruciating for two and a half hours.

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Meanwhile, Harry sort of hunts down this titular “Half Blood Prince” mystery, but unlike the development that happens in the book, Harry just sort of uses it as a plot device to get on Professor Slughorn’s good side. Despite the best efforts of Daniel Radcliffe and Jim Broadbent in these moments, it doesn’t really amount to much of anything engaging. Just more set up for implied drug use via potions. So, when Snape makes his grand reveal… you’ve pretty much forgotten that Half Blood Prince was even involved in this plot. Oh, and Harry also starts his most baffling development in the timeline of these stories: his romance with Ginny. Ginny was never a character that seemed interesting enough to focus on at all past her brief plot relevance in Chamber of Secrets and here, the romance falls about as flat as it does in the books. Radcliffe has more chemistry with that waitress in the opening scene than he ever does with Bonnie Wright in the entire series.

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Honestly, the saving grace that keeps this tolerable beyond Dumbledore’s death is the actual lead up and how it manages to spotlight a rather underdeveloped character: Draco Malfoy. Draco prior to this wasn’t much more than sniveling pure blood Hitler youth, casting no doubts about his family’s ties to the Dark Lord. Yet here, there’s a worry about his grave task that makes him dimensional. A moment or two of palpable fear that makes his actions have weight and give Tom Felton more range to work with. It’s not a lot, but it’s the best string this has to swing on. Half Blood Prince is in such polar opposite to the powerful swings of Order of the Phoenix. While the latter took the source material to new heights of emotion and wizard dueling, Half Blood Prince guts the emotional context and boils it down to little.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Blackened Hands

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Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Now, if Half Blood Prince was filler, clearly this first half of the final chapter for the Harry Potter universe would obviously be wasteful, right? Every other time we’ve seen people split these final chapters up, it always feels unnecessary. Well, while Deathly Hallows Part 1 does seem long in the tooth, there’s at least a bit more reasoning to give this finale some breathing room. For one, the opening flying fight sequence. We get all of these characters together, only to see them turn into the literal title character of the franchise and split off to be chased by Death Eaters. It’s a vital way of setting up the stakes and a commentary on the guilt Harry feels at every turn as people are hurt in his name, something that will be extremely important come the climax of the next film.

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Yet, while we’re also highlighting the darkness inherent in this finale, there’s also plenty of quiet character moments that actually mean something. Whether it’s some of the humor of our trio sneaking into The Ministry of Magic or Harry & Hermione having their little dance to Nick Cave in the tent, we see these friends truly embracing each other’s company before things irrevocably change for all of them. Unfortunately, we do have to devote so much unnecessary time to a rift between Ron and Hermione & Harry that diverges so much time from more scenes like the dance. It’s another problem of adaptation, but this one more in keeping a useless storythread for the sake of filler. It’s not as confounding as the filler in Half Blood Prince, but still does mark this as a chapter that could have merely added an extra hour and change to the actual finale rather than totally justify the need for separation.

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Then again, the joy of Deathly Hallows Part 1 is that just as it starts to lose you, another tasty morsel comes in to satisfy. Probably the best example is the climactic animated sequence of the titular myth within the universe. It’s elegant and macabre in a way that sells the high stakes nature of all three items. It gives these magical objects far more powerful origins and destructive conviction. Same goes for the punctuation mark that is the finale, in which Harry, Ron and Hermione are saved at the last second by Dobby, only to see him die so suddenly. On the one hand, this is definitely less impactful than the book version given the amount of time we had with Dobby. Yet, by having him return here, he serves as a brief portal to the past, plugged by the shattering onslaught of modern change. Dobby’s death isn’t an empty one story wise. It gives us an appropriate cliffhanger moment of shocking sorrow we didn’t expect, allowing us to potentially be set up for the oncoming fest of feelings.

Rating 3 out of 5 Horcruxes

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Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

Finales are tough. Once one gets past that fact that we have an ending, the expectations for it soar until they’re too close to the sun. Thus, setting up more than a fair share of disappointment. Filmwise, the second part of Deathly Hallows doesn’t suffer from lack of trying. We get a pretty full look into our larger recurring characters and their fates. Harry, Hermione and Ron get their fair share of moments, as do the likes of Snape, Lupin, McGonagall, Mrs. Weasely, Neville Longbottom and even Sirius Black & Dumbledore from beyond the grave. The trouble is, the true lack of development that was woven into the books plagues their attempted reveals in Deathly Hallows Part 2 cinematically. People like Tonks or Fred Weasley don’t have nearly the impact they’re striving for on an emotional level. They just sort of add up to Harry’s guilt that builds up to the climactic battle with Voldemort.

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However, even with most of its bountiful cast, Deathly Hallows Part 2 still manages to strike far more of a balance than anyone would have expected. The emotional highs and horrified lows our characters go through emotionally are incredibly well realized. There are too many to count but the main ones to highlight are Snape’s death, the Gringott’s dragon escape and Harry’s finale battle with Voldemort. Snape’s finale shows off Alan Rickman’s true range as an actor, emphasizing just how committed he was to seeing Snape to fruition. The dragon escape is a rousing way to start the film that immediately sets into motion the theme of escaping oppression. The finale not only allows Harry to earn his status as a Chosen One figure, but doing it on the terms of having his friends help. The deconstruction the The Chosen One trope in the Potter series always seemed to be an underrated aspect of the series. Harry isn’t a singular perfect being, but more of a leader able to recognize the talents of others.

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Even during his one-on-one battle with Voldemort, Harry knows he can’t actually accomplish this on his own. The entire series has been built on the strength of friendship. What friends do to help each other as things look their darkest. “Help will always been given at Hogwarts to those who deserve it,” Dumbledore says to Harry during his near death experience. A moment of realization that anyone who truly earns the friendships they’ve had will be able to find guidance from those closest. And that’s not just Hermione and Ron. Everyone from the rising hero of Neville Longbottom to the fallen anti-hero of Snape gave Harry the help necessary to defeat Voldemort. That even from the seemingly useless or lost souls can we find strength. Hogwarts may have been a school littered with perils and chaos, but it was able to bring people together of varying backgrounds who were united by a curiosity for magic.  The type of unity that gave Harry, Hermione and Ron the adventures of a lifetime and the chance to raise families of their own. And even if the three of them were poorly CG-ed to look older during the epilogue, that message still rings ever true.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Tears Into a Pensive

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Well, thanks for being so patient, folks. It’s been a long journey and we’re finally out of it. Happy Holidays and may… the magic be with you? Eh, I tried.

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