Awwwww, how cute they were! Sniff. Well, it’s taken a decade of our lives — and more than $6 billion from our worldwide pockets — but now, after seven films, a supernova of merchandising, and gainful employment for the entire British acting profession, “It all ends” for the Harry Potter series; as those pithy poster taglines very succinctly declare.
So how will Deathly Hallows measure up to the other films? Will it send the franchise off in fine style? It’s too soon to know for sure, but with a few early reviews in, things are looking good for Pottermaniacs. “This is an exciting and, to put it mildly, massively eventful finale that will grip and greatly please anyone who has been at all a fan of the series up to now,” writes Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter. “If ever there was a sure thing commercially, this stout farewell is it.”
Philip Womack of London’s Telegraph is even more effusive. “This is monumental cinema, awash with gorgeous tones, and carrying an ultimate message that will resonate with every viewer, young or old: there is darkness in all of us, but we can overcome it.”
Some critics are already nostalgic for the series now that it’s come to an end. “Speaking as someone who has spent half his professional life observing and studying actors,” wrote Baz Bamigboye of London’s Daily Mail, “it’s been one helluva ride watching the three leading actors grow up.”
However, some find things to quibble about. In his mostly positive review, Variety‘s Justin Chang writes that “more than a few viewers may be left wondering: Why the rush? The series’ shortest entry at 131 minutes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II surges ahead with tremendous urgency, superb spectacle and powerful, even overwhelming emotion, only to falter with a hasty sendoff that seems to buckle under the weight of audience expectations.”
Since 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone took on the massive task of adapting the still-running, phenomenally successful book series, we’ve watched Harry, Ron and Hermione literally grow up on screen before our eyes, from wide-eyed young performers to seasoned franchise veterans. The films, too, have grown in storytelling polish and emotional sophistication as they’ve progressed — though the highest-rated (but curiously lowest-grossing) entry remains 2004’s Prisoner of Azkaban, each of the seven Potter films to date have earned themselves the distinction of being Certified Fresh at RT; a rare feat for any franchise, let alone one with so many installments.
So, as the final chapter prepares to close on the adventures of the boy wizard, how will Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II compare with its predecessors? Take a look through our rundown below of the films so far, and weigh in with your thoughts.
First-time Potter director David Yates joined the series at a challenging juncture — adapting the longest of the series’ books and transforming it into a single film. Naturally there were bound to be gripes about what did and didn’t make the cut, but at 78% Certified Fresh, it wasn’t anything to scoff at for Yates’ first gig.
Critics consensus: “It’s not easy to take the longest Harry Potter book and streamline it into the shortest HP movie, but director David Yates does a bang up job of it, creating an Order of the Phoenix that’s entertaining and action-packed.”
Most critics praised last year’s opening salvo of the series’ final chapter, but — perhaps inevitably — due to the inconclusive nature of the story, together with the fact that studio had split one book to draw out the finale, there were also detractors critical of the movie. Still, another Certified Fresh at 78% — with a potentially rousing successor to top it.
Critics consensus: “It can’t help but feel like the prelude it is, but Deathly Hallows, Part I is a beautifully filmed, emotionally satisfying penultimate installment for the Harry Potter series.”
The kids were untested performers and the writer and director were faced with the unenviable task of faithfully translating one of history’s most successful books to the screen, so it’s little surprise that Potter one would have its critics. Sure, the acting had a ways to go, but for the most part — as the 80% indicates — critics, and fans, liked what they got.
Critics consensus: “Being so faithful to the book is both the movie’s strength and weakness. The movie unfolds exactly as written in the book, so there is little room for surprises or discoveries. For Potter fans, what more can you ask for?”
Cut from a similar cloth — for better and for worse — as its predecessor, with Chris Columbus again behind the lens, Secrets benefited from its engaging source material, and the fact that those involved were starting to grow accustomed to their roles.
Critics consensus: “Darker and livelier than the first Harry Potter, but much of what’s wrong with the first movie is also present here.”
David Yates’ second go-round at the franchise found him hitting his stride, and while the story may have been marking time in some places, the darker, deeper elements that would soon come to the fore had begun to develop nicely.
Critics consensus: “Dark, thrilling, and occasionally quite funny, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is also visually stunning and emotionally satisfying.”
Veteran filmmaker Mike Newell’s first and only entry in the series succeeded in enriching the character complexity, while providing another entertaining spectacle that moved the series forward a significant step as films.
Critics consensus: “The main characters are maturing, and the filmmakers are likewise improving on their craft; vibrant special effects and assured performances add up to what is the most complex yet of the Harry Potter films.”
Typically regarded as the “one where things got dark” — and perhaps why it’s a critic fave — Azkaban marked the contribution from acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), who took then-relatively fresh young actors and extracted performances that showed their potential. Sadly, it was to be the filmmaker’s one-and-only contribution, but arguably it inspired the series to reach for greater heights.
Critics consensus: “In Cuaron’s hands, Azkaban has emotional depth to go along with the technical wizardry.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II opens on July 15 in the US and the UK, and July 13 in Australia. For up-to-the-minute reviews, check back here.