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Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson finish a 10-year journey with The Deathly Hallows Part 2 directed by David Yates.
It ends well. After eight films in 10 years and a cumulative global box-office take of more than $6.3 billion, the most successful franchise in the history of movies comes to an obligatory – and quite satisfying – conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Fully justifying the decision, once thought purely mercenary, of splitting J.K. Rowling’s last book into two parts, this is an intriguing and, to put it mildly, impressively eventful finale that will grip and greatly please anyone who has been at all a fan of the saga until now. If ever there was a sure thing commercially, this stout farewell is it.
It has been an amazing run, really, completed by careful planning as well as very good luck. When some quick shots at the end remind how wonderful young Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grintand Emma Watson were when this all began, one marvels that they’ve all matured to be as physically plausible for the roles and brilliantly talented as they have.
With a parade of incredible British actors filling exceedingly vivid parts, casting has been the franchise’s most consistently strong suit from the beginning to the end; remarkably, only one huge actor, Richard Harris, died over the course of the decade, and he was smoothly replaced by Michael Gambon (though regret still lingers around that Peter O’Toole wasn’t cast as Professor Dumbledore in the first place; was it thought he wouldn’t survive this long?).
After Chris Columbus launched the Harry Potter saga capably but with less than stunning flair, producer David Heyman cleverly chose Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell to set the next two -the best of the franchise artistically – then settled on TV director David Yates for the long run to the end. Originally working in what appeared too straightforward and briskly efficient a manner, Yates has finally come into his own in this last entry, orchestrating an impressive chessboard of events with brilliant finesse and a stronger sense of dramatic composition than he has previously showed.
But the key player all along has probably been screenwriter Steve Kloves, who made what must have been a vexing decision to put a promising directorial career on hold for more than 10 years to write all but one of the Potter movies (though mentioning exhaustion and the need for a break, he later expressed regret over not adapting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). Tricky in that so many characters, including quite a few from the past, needed to be shuffled into the dramatic deck without sacrificing forward momentum, this final chapter suggests an even greater-than-usual attention to narrative balance and refinement. Simply put, it’s clear the filmmakers felt the responsibility to do this job right, and that they have.
Of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is all about the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, the ultimate showdown between good and evil, the climax the entire series has built toward from the beginning. With Voldemort wielding the legendary Elder Wand with mighty powers even before the Warner Bros. logo shows up onscreen, Harry, Ron and Hermione at the outset are still in the wilderness, appointed to seek and destroy four remaining Horcruxes (all of which contain pieces of the Dark Lord’s soul) and had to make a deal with disagreeable goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) to gain access to Bellatrix Lestrange’s bank vault, where one Horcrux might be hidden.
The subsequent break-in involves a wonderful charade in which Hermione disguises herself as Bellatrix (some amusing work from Helena Bonham Carter here) but also a roller-coaster ride that feels like a prototype for a theme-park attraction.
This scene also calls attention to the fact that, after an aborted attempt on the previous work, this is the first Harry Potter movie to be released in 3D. Those with a purist streak will probably wish Warners had left well enough alone and not adopted the fad purely for the extra dollars, as if it needed them. Still, apart from a few inefficient effects that look phonier thanks to the extra dimension, the 3D works quite well for the various stunning visual effects as well as with the greater sense of depth with which Yates orchestrates many of his scenes here.
As Harry and his friends reunite at Hogwarts – now run by Professor Snape like a dark fascist camp and guarded by hovering Death Eaters – an admirably sober, melancholy mood covers the entire proceedings; Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciaran Hinds) details unsavory aspects of his family’s early history and portents of what’s to come reverberate as Harry and Voldemort increasingly share what’s in their minds, while Harry’s welcoming committee at school resembles a stalwart bunch of loyal soldiers gathered for a none-too-promising last stand. Among the many who have been recently little seen, the one who most surprisingly rises to the occasion is the largely forgotten Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), whereas Harry’s girlfriend Ginny (Bonnie Wright) offers entirely expected solidarity.
Similarly marginalized in the past few years, Maggie Smith’s brilliant Minerva McGonagall reasserts herself for this last project, helping to create a shield surrounding Hogwarts that will at least temporarily halt Voldemort’s army, which has gathered on a cliff overlooking the school. As preparations are frantically made for the last battle, time is nevertheless found for crucial narrative journeys into the past, including one final and especially revelatory dive into the pensive to explore the early relationships involving Snape, Harry’s mother and Dumbledore, as well as the murders that started it all so many years before.
Even the final magic face-off between the evenly matched Harry and Voldemort has its distinct stages that unveil final layers of information. It’s also nicely leavened with slashes of humor, leading to a brief coda set 19 years later that, in the way it comes full circle and reconnects with the relative innocence with which the series started, feels just right.
The squabbling of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 happily a thing of the past, Ron and Hermione lend stalwart support, but the weights of the consummation rest squarely on Harry’s shoulders and lead one to appreciate Radcliffe’s accomplishment here and throughout the saga; whatever quibbles and shortcomings have existed previously, he is Harry, once and for all, and goes out on a high note.
Many of departed or otherwise absented characters make short appearances here as a way of tying things together, allowing such actors as Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes, Julie Walters and many more to make brief curtain calls together with their fellow great pros.
Technically, nothing has been held back. The eventual sight of Hogwarts as a crumbled ruin is striking, Eduardo Serra’s cinematography outclasses what he accomplished the last time out, and some of Nick Dudman’s makeup effects — especially with the goblins and a shocking glimpse of a fetal Voldemort — are sensational. Alexandre Desplat’s score is arguably the best yet for the series, briefly incorporating echoes of John Williams’ original themes while richly boosting the already heightened drama of this sendoff to such a tremendously successful series.
All that’s missing is an official “The End” after the final image.