Some thoughts on the final Harry Potter film and the series as a whole. Note that I haven’t read all the books (I gave up after book three or four, when it looked like they were getting exponentially larger), but I don’t think that disqualifies me from an opinion. Films and books are different things, and if I can’t appreciate the film without reading the book then that’s a failure on the film’s part.
Oh, and Spoilers for the final Harry Potter film.
Harry Potter isn’t the hero. He’s the plot device. If you compare the series to The Lord of the Rings, he’s more like the ring than he is like Frodo.
From the start, Harry’s main quality is that he’s the Chosen One with the Special Destiny. He’s surrounded by people who are more competent than he is and who do most of the actual work: in particular Hermione, who seems to come up with most of the useful ideas but inexplicably lets the boys take most of the credit. Harry Potter is dragged along by a wave of destiny, continually given the hints and aid he needs by magical visions or by adults who know more than they let on. If you take away this aid and this special destiny, he’s not any more heroic than the characters around him.
Over the course of the films/books (and especially in the final one) we learn more about what Harry’s Special Destiny means–and I do love the fact that it turns out to mean something very specific, rather than being the vague sort of destiny that lets the author have things happen for no reason. Somewhat chillingly, Harry really is a magical macguffin, raised from birth for a particular purpose that doesn’t require any more from him than being in the path of the villain at a certain moment.
There’s the seed of a great story there, a twist on the normal fantasy formula. The hero of a work doesn’t need to be the same as the point of view character. Make the magical macguffin into a person, and you can tell the story from his point of view, as he watches the real hero or heroes get him into position and save the day. Our macguffin-man doesn’t need to be completely passive, but if his main asset is being the one with the special magic destiny, rather than having some actual useful skill, then the work shouldn’t treat him as the hero.
That could be an interesting story…but that’s not what the Harry Potter series does. It can’t seem to make up its mind whether Harry is the hero or the magic item. It explicitly tells us that Harry’s fate has been mapped out for him by others, that his only notable quality is something that happened to him as a baby that he had no control over–but it then expects us to believe that his going along with this plan makes him the world-saving hero, and expects us not to notice that most of the work is being done by others. I’m not saying he did nothing of use, but did he really do that much more than any of the supporting cast who fought and perhaps died in the final battle?
I’m not saying it was a bad film–it was very entertaining, and the story did mostly work–but I felt there was a good idea there that it didn’t properly explore.