[Spoiler alert for the paragraph regarding make-up. Skip it if you both haven't read the book and don't want to be spoiled.]
When Part One came out, many folks complained that there was too much camping and brooding and not enough action. They will not have this complaint about Part Two. Starting where the last movie ended, Harry, Hermione, and Ron immediately jump into action, planning to break into Bellatrix LeStrange’s vault at the goblin bank Gringotts. From there it is one scene after the next of action or peril. Part One was criticized for the long middle stretch where our heroes go camping. This film runs as if it was responding to that criticism. Harry, Ron, and Hermione bounce from scene and to scene and danger to danger like pin balls. Strangely, this doesn’t really make the movie terribly exciting.
Partly, this is because of the decision of the script to keep Harry and his friends running around looking for Horcruxes while battles rage around them. This gives you a ground’s-eye-view of battles, with the feel of recent shaky cam war movies. Wizard battles are spectacularly messy affairs, like a battle where people only have misfiring grenade launchers. However, we only encounter them when Harry is trying to get from point A to point B. We never really have a sense of what is going on in the battle. It is possible that this is meant as a commentary of some kind, but if so, it falls flat.
However, the film is stuffed with indelible scenes. Helena Bonham Carter’s ironic and comical portrayal of a young ingenue attempting to portray her. Neville Longbottom coming to in the midst of a wizard battle. Ron and Hermione’s first real kiss. Voldemort bloody in a train station. Indeed, the devotion to individual scenes might be the film’s biggest weakness. In trying to hit as many scenes that fans love from the book as possible, the movie doesn’t have much connective tissue between them. People appear on screen, but often they never speak. The whole film is image after image after image, with no sense of why we should care about any one in particular. If the first film was brooding and tedious, this one is spastic and meaningless.
You can tell that the filmmakers saw the problems, too. There is an interesting scene where Harry explicitly rejects going into some of the backstory present in the book. It is as if Steve Kloves had wanted to give filmgoers the same experience they had with the book, but realized that there just wasn’t going to be time. There was too much in the book and try as they might, there simply isn’t time. Unfortunately, the result is a movie that is reminiscent of the works of Michael Bay: all bang, no buck.
I want to briefly discuss makeup. If this movie isn’t a serious contender for the Oscar this year, I’ll be surprised. I didn’t realize until this film how Voldemort’s body makes him look less like a snake and more like a lamprey. It was a stunning job, helped by an able performance by Ralph Fiennes. At the same time, Alan Rickman was so obviously wearing so much makeup it distracted from his performance. This film is meant to be Snape’s redemption and all I could think about was whether he’d had work done. This is partly because I’m a horrible, petty person, but also because everything about Snape is mishandled in this film. If you felt his character was too quickly redeemed in the books, this movie won’t alter that perception.
All that said, I’d still recommend the movie for fans. It is practically all fan service (of one form or another) and it is satisfying to see certain scenes play out. However, you need the books to fill in the gaps, because otherwise I tend to think most of the movie won’t make sense and won’t resonate. In fact, the faults and strengths of this movie are the opposites of the faults and strengths of its predecessor. Perhaps watching the two together will result in a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.