You need an actor with the dramatic heft of Ralph Fiennes to deliver the four words that vile Lord Voldemort hisses here with such lip-smacking, syllable-stretching relish: "Harry. Potter. Is. Dead." Say what? You know that's not true. What is dead is the Harry Potter film franchise that milked Brit author J.K. Rowling's seven bestsellers for eight movies, a global box-office take of $6.3 billion, and the Hollywood heavyweight title as the most lucrative film series in, well, ever. Stick that up your Aston-Martin, James Bond. While 007 shows no sign of calling it quits, wizard boy Harry has been retired by Rowling. That's all she wrote.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 puts a triumphant capper on a decade of Pottermania. Fans will be wild about Harry and the way the quietly dazzling Daniel Radcliffe has grown in the role, from the 11-year-old orphan of 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to the haunted old soul we now see. So hip-hip and a blast of hurrays for Radcliffe. Well played, sir.
That's a relief, since David Yates, who directed the last four Potter epics, was merely clearing his throat during last year's Part 1. While Part 1 huffed and puffed for a slogging 147 minutes, Part 2 zips by in just over two hours, crowding the movie with incident. The loose ends being tied up include turning Hogwarts into a smoking battlefield between good and evil as Harry labors to destroy the four horcruxes that contain Voldy's moldy soul and keep the bastard breathing through a nearly obliterated nose. (A lifetime of blow? Rowling won't tell.)
Confused? That means you never converted to the church of Harry. If not, this final chapter is so not for you. You'll feel like a Luddite at a computer convention. Even converts may feel irritated by the overstuffing in a 3D the action doesn't really need. We don't see enough of key characters. Alan Rickman is sublime at giving us a glimpse at last into the secret nurturing heart that potions professor Severus Snape masks with a sneer. But why just an appetizer when we crave a full meal? The same goes for the crisis of conscience that ravages Draco Malfoy, a villain with hints of Hitler Youth that the gifted Tom Felton plays with unexpected depth and sorrow.
As Harry's BBFs, Emma Watson's Hermione Granger and Rupert Grint's Ron Weasley also get short shrift. Though I appreciated the giggle they add to the pair's first kiss. Is smart, sassy Hermoine really hooking up with a lumbering ginger possessing (in her words) "the emotional range of a teaspoon"? Seriously! And whatever Harry's doing with Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) has the heat of dead ash.
And yet there is much to revel in. What a treat to see the magnificent Maggie Smith back from the sidelines to fire things up as deputy headmistress McGonagall. Blending young talent with British acting royalty has always given the series distinction. Save a cheer for Matthew Lewis who gives unsung Hogwarts hero Neville Longbottom his moment in the sun.
Yates marshals his technical team to produce visual marvels. Props to the thrilling dragon ride out of the caves beneath the Gringotts wizard bank. And how about that sly minx Helena Bonham Carter as witchy, bitchy Bellatrix LeStrange? Hermoine is supposed to break into the bank disguised as Bellatrix. Maybe Watson wasn't up to the task. Who would be? So Bonham Carter plays Bellatrix as if she were Hermoine, giving dewy adolescence a wicked tweak that is flat-out hilarious.
There are times when the film's epic scale threatens to overwhelm the intimacy in Steve Kloves' complexly interwoven script. It's telling that the first and least of the Potter films, Chris Columbus' candy-assed Sorcerer's Stone, hit the box-office jackpot ($317 million) while the third and best of the series, Alfonso Cuáron's hot-blooded Prisoner of Azkaban, brought up the rear ($250 million). Michael Bay's kingship in Hollywood is proof you'll never go broke by underlining the obvious. Blessedly, the Potter series refuses to sell out its humanity. OK, I wish Rowling had followed her initial impulse to hand Harry over to no-limits visionary Terry Gilliam. But you don't look to the Potter books and films for violent emotion. There is still real passion to be found behind the walls these very British characters erect.
More than the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, you'll remember Harry's touching reunion with the ghosts of his murdered parents and headmaster Albus Dumbledore (the great Michael Gambon), who's been talking a blue streak since his death.
Even my nitpicking reveals how much Rowling's characters and their cinematic avatars have worked their way into our heads and made us care. I dare you not to choke up, especially at the epilogue that takes us 19 years into Harry's future. That's the true power of the finale. These characters are ours now. What an exhilarating gift to watch Harry and Company go out in a blaze of glory and amazing grace. Note to Academy muggles: Get busy coming up with that Best Picture nomination you've denied all the other Potter films. Oscar attention must be paid.
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