And so it ends. The eighth and final Harry Potter movie represents the closing of one of the most remarkable pop-culture phenomena of the modern era. An adaptation of the second half of the seventh book in author J.K. Rowling's fantastically popular series about the adventures of a young wizard, the final installment is a milestone, as much an event as a movie.
Of course, it is also a movie — and a rather good one at that. Somber, exciting, and surprisingly beautiful, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" brings one of Hollywood's grandest series to a worthy finish.
For the remaining few who've yet to explore Ms. Rowling's mystical realm, however, this is probably not the place to start. The holdouts will certainly grasp the basics of the larger conflict — the villain is the bald guy with no nose and a pet snake — but the movie's large cast of characters and accumulated narrative knots are likely to prove impenetrable to the less devoted.
The devoted, of course, likely will have their own quibbles. For example, despite the decision to split the final book into two films, many of the minor characters are given short shrift. Of the legion of sublime character actors who've inhabited these roles, only Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Warwick Davis as the goblin Griphook get more than a handful of scenes. Even Ralph Fiennes, returning as Potter's noseless nemesis, appears mostly as an evil totem more than an individual mastermind.
The focus here is squarely on the trio of young heroes — Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). When the first Potter film was released in 2001, the three stars were but children, and there were questions about whether they could stay with the roles as the series continued. Now it seems impossible to imagine any of the movies — or the characters these young performers play — without them.
Even in the lesser films, the three believed in their roles completely and made it possible for the audience to do the same. Watching them grow into their parts over the past decade has been the series' greatest single pleasure.
This time around, credit is also due to British director David Yates, in his fourth Potter picture. Mr. Yates handles the material with a delicate touch, preferring the subtle and the solemn to the spectacular. Death scenes are small tragedies, but more powerful for it. Though the pacing is not quite as measured as the previous installment, which frequently felt more like a BBC drama than a summer blockbuster, Mr. Yates still manages to allow the characters and the audience time to think and feel rather than rushing on to the next action sequence.
If anything, the action sequences are where Mr. Yates falls short. Though he is a gifted visualist with an eye for stunning imagery, he's less interested in kinetic choreography or complex staging. So a climactic magical assault on Harry's school, Hogwarts, is marked more by its background beauty than by action-scene adrenalin.
Still, it's hard to fault Mr. Yates for his implicit insistence that the series' real magic is not driven by wizardly wand-offs, but instead by the small and human power of friendship, virtue and self-sacrifice. The great victory in the story is not that Harry, Hermione, and Ron defeated Voldemort, but that they grew up. Lucky us. We all got to grow up with them.
TITLE: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2"
CREDITS: Directed by David Yates, screenplay by Steven Kloves
RATING: PG-13, for menacing magical violence
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS