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After seven earlier films reaching back a decade, the Harry Potter saga comes to a solid and satisfying conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The finale brings up enough awe and solemnity to serve as a fine finale and a dramatic contrast to the lighthearted (relative) purity of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” all those mystical years ago.
Harry, Hermione and Ron are grown up now, and Harry has even grown the facial stubble required of all epic heroes. The time has come for him to battle Lord Voldemort in their final face-off, and their conflict is orchestrated in a series of special effects scenes including power and conviction. I am still not sure what the bolts discharged by magic wands actually consist of, but never mind. They look wicked and lethal.
I dare not spoil a single crucial thing about the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows story itself, lest I knocked on the Spoiler Police’s door, who have been on my case recently. Besides, you never know. Maybe they’ve completely rewritten J. K. Rowling’s final book in the series. Maybe Harry dies, Voldemort is triumphant, and evil reigns.
What I can observe is that this final film is a reunion of sorts for a great many characters we’ve come to know over the years. So many distinguished British actors have played roles in the Potter films that those who haven’t may be fitfully resentful. Here we once again reunite with characters whose names were once unfamiliar and now resonate with associations: Bellatrix Lestrange, Rubeus Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore, Ollivander, Lucius Malfoy, Sirius Black, Severus Snape, Remus Lupin and even Professor Minerva McGonagall, who is summoned to cast her powers and protect Hogwarts School from the powers of Voldemort.
You don’t want to know what happens to Hogwarts here. Many of its shining spires and noble gothic arches have turned into ruin and ashes, conveying an apocalyptic battleground. The school also seems to have mysteriously relocated adjacent to towering heights that permit vertiginous falls to the earth far below. There is no place in Britain seems fit for this geography, but then again, is Hogwarts really in the real Britain?
What it does take place in is a Britain in the imagination. The Harry Potter series has remained faithful to J. K. Rowling’s original conception, and resisted temptations to cheapen its action or simplify its complexity. She conjured up a fictional world with its own logic and consistency, and here at the last act, there is some satisfaction in seeing loose ends tied up, long time mysteries explained and suspicions confirmed.
In a dreamy sequence, we are allowed to see the characters as they were in the beginning. They were so young. By spanning something like real time, the story has grown older along with them. Daniel Radcliffe, born 1989, was 11 when he first portrayed Harry Potter, has now turned 21, and he and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have fortunately remained recognizable and soldiered on through what engaged in a great deal of hard labor. Not many young actors have been worked so relentlessly for a decade.
That said, it’s apparent again in this film that the three leads are upstaged by the supporting characters. Their role is to be plucky, clean-cut and stalwart. They sneak around and observe things. They eavesdrop. They speculate. They are lectured to. They endure a little low-key puberty. Harry struggles to master his magic. Meanwhile, such British legends as Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes steal scenes just by standing there. What chance does Harry or anybody have against dark lord Voldemort’s distorted face with its nostril slits? Late in the movie, leaving nothing to chance, Voldemort even shows up as his own fetus, looking like it’s been simmered in hot sauce.
It’s Fiennes’ Voldemort who dominates this last entry, illustrating the old actors’ axiom that it’s better to play the bad guy than the hero. It takes a considerable baddie to hold his own in the crumbled ruins of Hogwarts, and force the remaining students to make a decision between the friends of Harry or joining him on the dark side. Giving what has happened to Hogwarts, it’s quite surprising that the students haven’t returned home, but then respectable Dumbledore has had other things on his mind.
This filmed is brilliantly staged, the dialogue is given proper weight and not rushed through, there are surprises which, in hindsight, seem fair enough, and “Harry Potter” now holds an end that befits the most profitable saga in movie history. These films will be around for a long time. And without spoiling a single thing, let me just observe that the final scene clearly leaves an opening for a sequel. I know, Rowling says there won’t be one. Just sayin’.
Note: This entire Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie is dark, gloomy and filled with shadows. So it should be. That makes it particularly inappropriate for the additional dimness of 3-D. There are a few shots that benefit from 3-D (I like the unfolding of the little magical globe) but none that require it. Avoid the surcharge and see the film in proper 2-D with brighter color.