Plenty of films are based on books, but few are so bound by their source material as the Harry Potter series. Only The Lord of the Rings trilogy has had as many fans quoting chapter and verse changes to the screenplay. But there’s been little for them to complain about.
The seventh entry—taken from the first half of The Deathly Hollows, J.K. Rowling’s last and best Potter book—is no more likely to disappoint the roughly 50 million people who’ve read it. Sure, there are some rearranging and compressing of scenes and facts, but the two-and-a-half hour runtime for half a book allows screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates the space to faithfully retell a really good story.
Much of the first half of the book found the trio of young wizards lost and without direction. As much as evil wizards and werewolves, the enemy here is despair and self-doubt. Dumbledore has left clues, but they’re not easily cracked, and that, along with the burden of the One ring—I mean, an evil locket—prove too much for Ron, who abandons his friends. This is the final quest for our hero, and Rowlings didn’t make it easy or without cost. Not all the characters we grew to love see it safely to the end—the movie nearly begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral.
But it’s in these moments of frustration that we see the Hogwarts dropouts become young adults. In one of the film’s best non-CGI scenes, Harry takes a brooding Hermione by the hand and starts dancing. The laughter doesn’t last long, but it’s enough to sustain them and lift a veil of bleakness of the film’s middle act, primarily set during one long camping trip to various British forests.
After that, the challenges come in rapid-fire succession. And the wand-fights have come a long way from just seeing who could get words out of their mouths the quickest (though I’m still unclear on why people rarely just apparate the hell away at the first sign of trouble). There’s enough going on in the first few hundred pages to keep the action flowing. Unfortunately, it is only half a story, and it’s a little unsatisfying to have to take an eight-month intermission before the conclusion.
And yet, it’s also good to know we haven’t completely closed the book on these enjoyable films.