15 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe is shown in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."
WARNING: This review may contain spoilers for previous Harry Potter movies.

It all comes down to this.

J.K. Rowling’s book is four years old, so millions already know how the story ends. But many do not, and even if you have that knowledge, it is an entirely different experience to see images and events previously confined to your imagination projected onto the big screen.

With the eighth film, the Harry Potter saga comes to an end, and this final picture assures it will go down as one of the great achievements not just in cinema, but all of popular culture.

Picking up where we left off last fall, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” wastes no time in jumping back into the action, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) stealing the all-powerful Elder Wand from the tomb of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), while Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) continue their quest to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, the items in which the dark lord placed pieces of his soul to attain his apparent immortality.

Their quest takes them first to the vaults of the goblin-run bank Gringotts and then back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, once a place of comfort and security—a home—now a foreboding structure under the rule of a new headmaster, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the man who slew Dumbledore.

Mostly reactive until this point, Harry embraces his role as the chosen one, retaking the castle with help from Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tene), the Weasleys, a newly courageous Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and other allies.

The Battle of Hogwarts is on in full when Voldemort and his dark forces retaliate.

All of this will be completely unintelligible to anyone coming in blind. But that’s your fault if you decide to watch the eighth movie in a series without any prior knowledge.

“Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is by far the most action-packed Harry Potter movie, though director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves never lose sight of the characters, the human drama that has fueled the story from the beginning. Beloved friends and hated villains meet their ends together, and Harry rushes toward the confrontation to which his entire life has been leading him.

Yates is back for the fourth time, and of the quartet of directors the series has seen, he clearly has the best understanding of this story and its characters, knowing which beats to hit and hold and for how long.

Radcliffe, one of many actors in this franchise we literally have watched grow up on the screen, leads one of the most impressive casts you will ever see and lead it he does, with a confident, commanding, yet still vulnerable performance. Escaping the shadow of Harry Potter will be a difficult task as he moves forward in his career, but I think he has the chops to pull it off.

With special effects of the highest caliber, the movie is designed and shot so well that not even 3D, which normally does nothing more than make projected images darker and blurrier, can detract from it.

At 130 minutes, this is the shortest of the eight movies, but that’s because most of the heavy lifting already has been done. The pieces—the characters, the plot, the themes—are in place; this needs only to be a thrilling, satisfying conclusion. Movie history tells us that is often harder than it seems, so the achievement here should not be underestimated.

From any perspective—technical, emotional, storytelling—“Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is a smashing success. After so much buildup, it's everything it needs to be epic, gripping and heartbreaking. Now that's magic.

Greg's Grade: A

(Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images. 103 minutes.)

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