Adaptations, it seems, are never quite satisfying enough. There’s always something left out, something changed, something kept the same that should have been changed — always some sort of problem. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 may be guilty of some of these things, sure, but the adaptation of the Battle of Hogwarts makes a case for these cinematic changes being justified in order to send the series and its characters off well.
After the films preceding it took many liberties with the geography of Hogwarts, director David Yates (who has helmed the Harry Potter films, including the Fantastic Beasts installments, since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) had many iconic settings to capitalize on — and he did. The Battle of Hogwarts begins before the actual fighting starts, when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) arrive at Hogwarts. Students, under the strict leadership of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Death Eaters, namely Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), are ordered into the Great Hall. This was always where the fun of the school year began, where a lavish feast was served and where Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) shared some odd (but useful) words. Now we find it at the beginning of the end.
This sequence is the first major change of the Battle, and it’s a fitting one. It’s a rousing start, preceding the bloodshed to follow and thematically appropriate given the place of the Great Hall in the rest of the films. McGonagall (Maggie Smith) coming to Harry’s defense against Snape is both perfectly in line with her character and a side of her we hadn’t seen in that capacity until now. This is the moment when sides are definitively taken when the school comes to understand the stakes they are up against and when everyone puts their game faces on. It’s not a change included for the sake of being cinematic. The Great Hall scene feels like it was always meant to be there, setting up the battle to come.
As the fighting is just about to break out, we find Voldemort and his Death Eaters on one side of Hogwarts’ protective barrier, and Harry and both the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army on the other. In a fit of rage, Voldemort breaks through the barrier and the fight spills onto Hogwarts grounds, putting the battle for the wizarding world on Hogwarts’ doorstep.
Perhaps the best sequence exemplifying the convergence of Hogwarts and the cumulative forces in this battle occurs in the courtyard. Set to Alexandre Desplat’s “Courtyard Apocalypse,” the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron narrowly evades a host of magical creatures. There are some things that the book includes that would have been (excuse the pun) magical to see on the screen — Kreacher’s elf army comes to mind — but seeing all that was brought to life in this two-minute scene easily makes you forget what you’re missing. From giants to Acromantulas, werewolves to Dementors, the Courtyard Apocalypse scene puts the trio up against the foes they have defeated in their Hogwarts past (and maybe, just maybe, there’s something special about the order they face them in…).
They were never alone, though; working as a team (and with the help of a Dumbledore, of course) they make it through not only the courtyard but the whole ordeal. The adaptation of the Battle of Hogwarts has the tough job of completing character arcs in the midst of all the chaos, and it does so with flying colors.
The film slightly changes many moments in bringing this closure but maintains the thematic integrity the novel established in all of them. All of Luna Lovegood’s (Evanna Lynch) interest in mythology and odd creatures serves her well when she makes herself heard to steer Harry in the direction of the lost diadem. Molly Weasley’s (Julie Walters) fierce love for her family sees her successful in a duel against Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter); we all learned a lesson there: don’t touch her daughter. Snape becomes a hero… maybe? His last words are a little different from those in the novel, and all the more emotional for it: “You have your mother’s eyes.”
And then there’s Neville (Matthew Lewis). Dear, sweet, heroic Neville. The novel series gets more space to establish the emotion of Neville’s character in general, so his moment of killing Nagini carries a resonance that the film never could have achieved. Rather than trying to inject all that emotion into that one moment, the film periodically checks in on Neville throughout the battle: him blowing up the bridge in the beginning, trying to find Luna in the middle, and refusing to yield to Voldemort at the end. By the time we see him pull the Sword of Gryffindor on Nagini, saving Ron and Hermione from her killer fangs, we’ve been able to see the hero emerge from him. When he slices the snake in two, the film pauses on his victory. It may not carry quite the same weight as the moment in the novel, but it carries a new one. He wasn’t the chosen one, but there wouldn’t be victory without him; Neville undeniably gets his hero moment.
Voldemort’s death, far more dramatic and cinematic than in the novel, is a bit much. But for all the film does right — for its use of iconic Hogwarts locations, for its inclusion of the magical creatures we had come to know over the course of eight films, for its deep understanding of how to handle its character moments, for all of that — it earns a dramatic death for Voldemort.
A final battle for the ages, the Battle of Hogwarts is the perfect end to a decade’s worth of films. The devotion of fans in the audience was met by the filmmakers, creating an extended sequence that was realized for the big screen with overwhelming success. And really, what more could you ask for?