Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

As it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane—but to Harry Potter? The 'Citizen Kane' of whiz-kid film franchises reaches an emotional and exhilarating end.

The big screen’s Ten Years War of good vs. evil comes to a spectacular, if reluctant, conclusion with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2—in this veritable cinematic gold mine, now eight installments deep and $6 billion-plus in the tills.

Novelist J.K. Rowling, who co-produced this finale with Davids Heyman and Barron, administered the coup de grace herself in her seventh novel (the better to protect her franchise from unscrupulous hijackers farther down the line in time), and Steve Kloves, who scripted all but one in the series, has adapted her plot faithfully, with great feeling—even if he did make a short story long by dividing the concluding novel into two films. Only now in hindsight, by contrast, is the imbalance visible.

Alongside this fierce finish, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is clearly the lull before the storm, a rest stop from all the thunderbolt-throwing that pretty much defines the franchise. At the time, it was peddled as “the intimate installment,” a chance for the intrepid Hogwarts trio—Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)—to explore the personal corners of their friendship. The sustained scrutiny put a strain on their “fascination.”

But that awkward teen phase is behind us now, and Part 2 is stripped for action. “All the good stuff” seems to have settled to the bottom and zapped the series back to its full magical powers—one last wave of the wand justifying this decade-long journey.

David Yates, who helmed the final four chapters, has been speedy and unsparing in pouring on the special effects his last time at bat, packing it all down tightly in 130 minutes flat—the quickest Potter of all. That’s not necessarily a good thing, oddly: Given the body count here (and the fallen bodies from earlier outings returning for a last-reel “Remember me?” curtsey), it’s the one you may want to linger over the most.

The gauntlet is thrown down in the first frame—even before Warners gets to sign in with its brand—when the demonic Lord Voldemort (a no-nosed Ralph Fiennes, earning his hisses with or without his trusty snake in tow) takes up the powerful Elder Wand he culled from the coffin of Harry’s beloved mentor, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, as accessibly humane in ghostly form as he was in living form). It gives the Dark Lord invincibility—an awesomely tall order for the Boy Wizard & Co.

Instantly, the three young world-savers spring out of their wilderness lethargy and into action, searching for and destroying the life force that keeps Voldemort thriving and festering: four final Horcruxes (a kind of soul storage he summons strength from). It’s a wild ride—in one instance, literally, on the back of a fire-breathing dragon—and it returns them almost inevitably to Hogwarts, no longer the brightly remembered British boarding school of their freshman days but a battered battlefield lorded over by Voldemort and his horde of black-robed Death Eaters.

The density and intensity of incidents and characters that follow get to be a bit head-swimming at times. Kloves, like Rowling before him, has packed the finale with people and places from previous adventures, much the way composer Alexandre Desplat echoes the earlier Potter themes of John Williams and Nicholas Hooper.

The plot leapfrogs from the wizard bank Gringotts to Olivander’s wand shop to the Honeydews candy store to the Room of Requirement, even to the Sorting Hat. It being a fast track, much of the cast can only muster famous-face-dropping, but some rise to sound bites (Jim Broadbent) and full, felt sentences (Gary Oldman). In any event, all are most welcome—a pointed reminder that the Potter series is not only the most financially successful of all film series but also the best-acted as well.

Maggie Smith doesn’t need much more than a couple of wordless medium shots to convey volumes of emotion; happily, her Professor McGonagall has been dealt a larger hand than usual and she registers full potency, defending her besieged Hogwarts.

Julie Walters’ Molly Weasley has a delightful hissy-fit duel with the wild-haired Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, a far piece from the Queen Mum), and Matthew Lewis’s Neville Longbottom, long lost in the series, is granted a stirring scene where he stands up to be counted. Everyone makes the most of what they get.

Maybe the most blessed in this last mile is Alan Rickman’s Professor Severus Snape, who, at this late date, is allowed a compelling backstory that reveals an unsuspected past and points to the inevitability of Harry’s fate—a dark destiny he was groomed for.

Director Yates makes a beautiful bow out of past and present Potters and, for a final flourish, adds a poignant coda that takes place 19 years into the future—in effect, returning fire to any who’ve ragged the adolescent leads about the march of time for the past ten years of filmmaking: You see them middle-aged, a cycle of life complete.