If movies are like summer flings, movie franchises are more like long-term romances. We invest a lot of time and emotion in them; we feel really good while we’re involved; and after they’re all over, we wonder if we’ll ever experience anything else quite the same. I was thirteen years old when the first Harry Potter film was released in 2001 (the same age as Harry was). When the final film was premiering in theaters, I was 22. Essentially, Harry and I grew up together.
Similarly, Twilight hit theaters during my first year at college, and now, five years later, the final installment has arrived. Bella, the clumsy human turned empowered vampire, has graduated from high school and is forced to make some pretty adult, albeit bizarre, decisions. This feeling that we grow and mature and change alongside the characters is something we can’t ever get from just one film. We’ve formed meaningful attachments to these characters, and so, for the fans, it’s imperative that the endings be everything we hope for and more.
Both the Twilight franchise and the Harry Potter series kept their fans deeply invovled up until their final films, but which one has the best finale? Is it The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, where Bella and Edward face their greatest threat – an attack on their half-human, half-vampire child, Renesmee? Or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, in which half-wizard Harry confronts Lord Voldemort during the most destructive, violent battle Hogwarts has ever encountered? Prepare yourselves, wizards and vampires – this Smackdown ring is about to get bloody.
Part 1 of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn ended with the death of Bella (Kristen Stewart) while giving birth to her half-immortal child, Renesmee. Edward (Robert Pattinson) is only able to revive her by using his blood to turn her into a vampire. Now, in the final installment, Bella meets Renesmee and settles into married vampire life in her new cozy cottage with Edward. But this paradise is cut short when the Volturi, the vampire council, plan an attack on Renesmee because mixed-blood human/vampires are a risk to the exposure of all vampires.
The Volturi have dealt with this threat for centuries, killing half-blood children, who are uncontrollable and endanger the race. Their effort to follow suit with Renesmee forms the central drama of the film.
Fortunately for Renesmee, she is protected by the Cullen coven. Besides Edward and Bella, there are Edward’s father-figure Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), his mother-figure Esme, and quasi-siblings Alice, Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett, not to mention the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Bella’s abilities to shield her mind against manipulation, combined with her new vampire strength make her Renesmee’s greatest asset.
Like Breaking Dawn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 begins immediately where Part 1 left off. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) ignites the Elder Wand, which he has found in Dumbledore’s coffin, while Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) stands over Dobby’s grave outside of Ron’s family cottage. Over the loss of his elf friend Dobby, Harry decides he can no longer hide from the evil that awaits him, and so he commits to the search for the remaining Horcruxes, pieces of Voldemort’s soul that keep him alive forever. Joining Harry are the ever-faithful Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson).
Meanwhile, following Dumbledore’s death, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) is made headmaster of Hogwarts. Harry’s pursuit of the Horcruxes leads him to the school, where Harry and the students revolt against Snape’s position, and Snape flees. The professors and students of Hogwarts prepare for war, while Harry, Hermione and Ron continue to destroy Horcruxes.
Outside the school, Voldemort and his villainous soldiers breach the protective shield on Hogwarts, and the only thing left between the Dark Lord and Harry is his wand.
Like most fans, I’ve read all of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight books, and I knew the ending of the last one was rather dull. An epic battle scene is set up beautifully between the Cullen family and the Volturi, and yet the characters come to a truce and go their separate ways. Yawn. Thankfully (SPOILER ALERT), Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for all five films, gives the final conflict a twist. Toward the end of the film, Alice, who can see the future, shows Aro (Michael Sheen), the leader of the Volturi, what will happen if a battle ensues. Aro does not heed this vision, and at least five of our favorite vampires are decapitated and werewolves killed. After Jacob whisks Renesmee to freedom, Edward and Bella find the right moment to destroy Aro. I can still hear the resounding cheers from the audience when we smash cut to the present, before the battle, and we realized the characters we love are safe. It was an ending that threw everyone off-guard, easily justifying the remainder of an otherwise mediocre film.
There were no such surprises waiting for us in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. J.K. Rowling, author of the book series, did not hesitate to kill off a few adored characters, which I appreciate, considering there are always casualties in war. Unfortunately though, some of the characters who are killed, like Tonx, Lupin and Fred, aren’t so well known to moviegoers who didn’t read the books. All Harry Potter films for that matter have cut corners. In defense of the filmmakers, they’re dealing with 700-page books, but regardless, it’s difficult to bond with a film that asks you to connect the dots like this. Take Harry’s underdeveloped romance with Ginny for example. One minute she’s staring at him from across the table, the next minute they’re kissing, and at the end, they’re happily married with kids. If it’s really that unimportant to flesh out their relationship, nix it altogether and use the time on Ron and Hermione. And while we’re on the subject of endings, would it have been too much to ask for older actors to play the adult Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione in the final scene of the film, instead of the young actors looking like they were playing a game of dress-up in adult clothes?
But what Deathly Hallows lacks in its ending, it more than makes up for with a powerful beginning. The filmmakers jump right into the action, and there isn’t a moment to relax. The opposite goes for Breaking Dawn. Besides Bella kicking the crap out of Jacob for imprinting on her daughter, nothing too exciting happens until the middle of the film, when Alice has that vision that she will later share in vain with Aro.
While both these series began with films geared toward children and teens, each grew darker and dirtier as its audience matured. Harry Potter fans were constantly experiencing the loss of major characters, while Twilight fans watched Bella and Edward’s relationship grow from a pre-marital innocence to include lots of post-marital sex. In DH2, we see Harry prepare for his own death, and in Breaking Dawn 2 we see vampires ripping off heads and dangling them in their hands. Although parents might not be too happy about it, as the character grow up, they make decisions and face dangers that suit their age. Both films manage to add the adult content seamlessly, and both do it equally well.
The Twilight films have always had their awkward moments, and Breaking Dawn Part 2 is no exception. Bella and Edward don’t even make it five minutes into the film without reciting a silly line like, “We’re the same temperature now,” and it keeps going from there. Stewart, Pattinson and Lautner deliver their lines as if they’ve stepped off of a soap set and forgotten how to be movie stars. As a vampire, everything Stewart does is supposed to be instinctive, but in the scene where she throws a temper tantrum over Jacob’s imprinting on Renesmee, her anger feels forced and unnatural. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Twilight movie without Lautner showing off his bulging biceps and six-pack abs. These points might come across as negatives, but director Bill Condon and writer Rosenberg seem to be having a lot more fun bumping up the camp and relishing the cheese, unlike the first two films, Twilight and New Moon, which took themselves too seriously.
Deathly Hallows, on the other hand, takes itself very seriously, and the tone works just fine. Since the beginning, the plot was set up strategically to get to this point in Harry Potter’s life, where he confronts his destiny to bring down Voldemort. His parents died for this. His friends put themselves at risk for this. Dobby sacrificed his life for it. It’s a big deal. This critical part of the myth benefits from the performances of brilliant actors like Fiennes, Alan Rickman (Snape), and Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall). It also benefits from the stellar special effects, which helped transform Hogwarts from a school to a battleground. If only BD2 had as talented an effects team… perhaps CGI baby Renesmee could have looked real instead of creepy and fake.
Even though Twilight has been a guilty pleasure of mine since the first film was released, prior to seeing Breaking Dawn – Part 2, I didn’t think DH2 would have any competition at all. I must admit, the surprising ending of BD2 gave Deathly Hallows a run for its money, but in judging both films in their entirety, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, with its talented cast, superior effects and action-packed storyline, is the clear winner and still champion.