Harry Potter: Irritating Little Honor Student

Toward the so-so ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 I started to wonder: After all this time, when is Lord Voldemort going to catch a break? Here’s a guy who has worked tirelessly for years to extinguish one bothersome little brat, achieved ultimate power and yet — there’s always some last-minute technical loophole that foils him, through no fault of his own.

Still, his lack of attention to detail can be frustrating. When you kill somebody, you really should check your work. Don’t they teach that at Evil School?

My feelings for He Who Has No Nose (Ralph Fiennes) outweighed any emotional involvement in the fate of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is — let’s face it — a largely passive figure who is given all the magic, coaching, emotional support, and clues he needs at any given moment to ensure his temporary triumph at the next obstacle. In a way, Superman was boring too, but he was forced to be a loner. And his very squareness (particularly in the 1978 original film, in which his wide-eyed optimism clashed interestingly with the setting of a tawdry New York City at its Taxi Driver-era nadir) made him an outcast, even a contrarian. Harry isn’t a walking symbol of Truth, Justice, and the British Way. He stands for a generation who have been told at every step of the way that they are special, they are golden, they are chosen, they are bound to succeed. All around him good people are risking, or even laying down, their lives so he can self-actualize. He’s an irritating little honor student, isn’t he?

Early on in the final movie, Harry is apparently trapped deep underground going after the next item in his quest for magical bric-a-brac. Thanks to a perfidious goblin, he is in danger of being buried in rubble or at least of being killed by a dragon. So what does he do? He and Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) hop on the back of a dragon and speed away to safety. Where is the character, the accomplishment, or even the ingenuity of this? And why is the dragon so accommodating? It’s supposed to be a monster, not a shuttle service. It’s all too easy — like watching Superman zoom off to the Hoover Dam by catching a helicopter.

Why don’t kids notice that their heroes get everything handed to them on a levitating platter? Because, I guess, they think it’s really cool to imagine themselves riding a dragon as a huge building collapses all around them. A better question is why so many adults seem so intrigued by all things Harry, lining up next to eighth-graders for midnight showings. The answer is: Because as kids have gotten more and more grownup, adults have become children. Tech companies like Pixar and Google fill their offices with game rooms and cereal dispensers. Soon your office will have a 17-year-old guidance counselor on staff to advise you on how not to be so, like, ancient.

The cereal-dispenser aspect of Harry Potter has been evident throughout the series and nothing has changed in the final episode. Push the button, get your sugar-blasted flakes. A few minutes of chatter about the next piece of the puzzle  — now it’s a goblet, now it’s a diadem — is followed by some meaningless Rambo or Ripley dialogue (“It’s a suicide mission!” “Not my daughters, you bitch!”). Then it’s time for another gargantuan special-effects splash-out. Armies gather, castles are attacked, wands send powerbolts flashing through the air, bridges are destroyed. I’m glad to see so many digital technicians are in work, but none of this leads anywhere. It’s all just sideshow, killing time. We wait some more for what we’ve been awaiting since the first film in 2001: For Harry and Voldemort to step up and face off.

By now all of the stars are in their 20s, yet regardless of whether they are interrogating ghosts, locking up in what’s meant to be a “passionate embrace,” or fighting all-powerful evil, they never really seem to be in peril, never give us much of a feeling of suspense. The kid gloves never did come off in these movies. The Harry Potter series is kind of like an eighth-grade graduation ceremony punctuated with tricks by magician David Copperfield: full of grandiosity and self-importance, blissfully unaware of how silly it seems to an adult perspective.