The spell is cast, the spectre is summoned: the final Harry Potter movie, the culmination of film history's most lucrative franchise ($6.3-billion at the box office), the ultimate smack-down between owl-eyed boy wizard and snake-nosed villain, J.K. Rowling's words made flesh once more. Yes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the last dip into the great vat of HP sauce.
This outing not only doesn't disappoint; it surpasses high expectations. This is a terrific, smartly designed adolescent adventure, visually rich, narratively satisfying, and bound to resonate for years to come. The finale gets everything right that the gloomily overpadded HPATDH: Part 1, which came out last November, didn't: It is brisk (at 130 minutes, the shortest of the series) but covers a lot of narrative ground without sacrificing any emotional impact.
The depth of acting talent, as usual, is the series' strongest point. The film is filled to its Hogwarts crannies with British acting luminaries, including Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt and Ciaran Hinds, to name just a few.
At the centre is Ralph Fiennes as the wretched Lord Voldemort, who emerges as one of the tragic heroes of the piece, showing vulnerability with his villainy. The other is Alan Rickman, as Severus Snape, finally allowed to shed a milky tear or two as his bitter backstory is revealed. Although everything else moves quickly, British stage-acting traditions are fully respected here: This is a film filled with resonant theatrical voices, and actors who speak every line with emphasis and … meaningful … pauses.
Former television director David Yates, who has managed Harry movies five through eight, initially seemed a workmanlike choice compared to his immediate predecessors, Mike Newell ( Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Alfonso Cuaron ( Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). But, like his young cast members, he has grown with the series. This is unquestionably his best effort, as he masters the logistical demands of resolving the various story strands. Cinematographer Eduardo Serra and production designer Stuart Craig are especially good at the vast, Gothic fantasy-scapes. Throughout, Steve Kloves's script maintains the judicious blend of gravity and humour that are the hallmark of Rowling's books.
The great supporting cast, the special effects, the galloping storyline: All are in the service of the coming-of-age fable - and our witnessing the three young actors come into their adulthood before our eyes.
As Harry, Daniel Radcliffe is still diminutive but earnest and sturdily manly. (I've always seen him as the reincarnated John Lennon.) Emma Watson's Hermione is stiffly beautiful, while Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) is our rep on the squad, the guy you'd most like to share a pint with.
Our first meeting with the three reunited friends is the quiet before the storm, as they are gathered at the safe house, Shell Cottage, near the elf Dobby's grave. There, Harry makes a deal with the ill-tempered goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) to get into the bank vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) to find a "horcrux" (an object that contains a piece of Voldemort's soul, and ensures his life beyond corporeal death).
This allows for the film's most openly comic sequence, in which Hermione impersonates Bella (actually Bonham Carter impersonating Watson's awkward physicality). This, in turn, leads to a theme-park-like mine-shaft ride into the deep vault. A climb across a mountain of rapidly multiplying goblets and jewels to get a golden cup serves to show off the film's 3-D perspectives. (The depth effects are used judiciously; the one other memorable occasion is a dive off a Hogwarts tower.)
Next stop is Hogwarts Academy to get another horcrux (this time, a diadem). Hogwarts becomes a besieged castle that brings to mind the massed battle scene at the climax of The Lord of the Rings. But, shot at night, the Harry Potter version is more ghostly and grandly funereal.
The only slowdown in momentum is a longish flashback sequence in which Harry looks into the "pensieve," or stone basin, where he views the past and learns the secret of his identity - and his connections to Snape and Voldemort - and prepares to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
Arguably, the last few scenes feel a little too self-consciously awesome - you can almost hear the flipping pages of Hero Mythology 101 in the background - but what's lost in suspense is salvaged by a serious idea: that life gains meaning with the recognition of the fact of death.
When we jump ahead 19 years (I love the fact it's not 20), we settle back to the charm of real life, with Harry showing his maturity (okay, a suit jacket and some stubble); Ron with a friendly paunch; and Hermione (looking exactly the same but with boxier clothes). After the great drama of growing up is over, a whole new set of adventures awaits. For the legions of Harry Potter fans who will bid this last film a tearful goodbye (the snuffling in the theatre was almost as loud as the onscreen wand blasts), it's a helpful note to leave on.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Directed by David Yates
- Written by Steve Kloves
- Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
- Classification: PG