A decade after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and even longer since the publication of the first Potter novel, the forces responsible for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 had a daunting task on their hands in giving this epic series the finale it deserves. Whether casual filmgoers or Potter superfans, audiences are emotionally invested in the franchise and its characters in a way that is truly unique. To their credit, screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates have allowed the movies to grow in both style and emotional complexity, mirroring the books' original storyline as well as the real-life transition from adolescence to young adulthood experienced by the films' central actors. For the most part, the final movie delivers the combination of emotional intensity and rousing battle sequences befitting the end of a phenomenon that evolved from an unexpectedly popular children's book series to an era unto itself.
The Deathly Hollows, Part 2 wastes no time getting to the action, beginning where the first installment left off -- that is, as Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) obtains a powerful magical artifact while Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) mourn the loss of a beloved friend. There is little time for grief, however, nor for setup; The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 served that purpose, and, reminiscent of the larger-than-life chess game portrayed in The Sorcerer's Stone, it is clear that Part 2 is the action-packed payoff of years' worth of planning. From a fantastical bank robbery to an all-out bloodbath in the once-protected halls of Hogwarts, the film, as it should, has the feel of a last stand.
The commitment to The End is wholly embodied in the actors' performances; most of them have been working on the franchise since its inception, and all of them are clearly as invested in their characters as the audience. Some of the actors (most noticeably Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman) seem thrilled to exhibit a deeper dimension to their roles than plot and time constraints previously allowed. The background characters -- including, at times, literally Hogwarts itself -- are finally allowed to shine. While the story is, as Dumbledore states, Harry's "party," it is the fierce loyalty and commitment of the partygoers that gives the film much of the emotional resonance it needed to be successful. It's even difficult not to feel a twang of pity for Voldemort, who, portrayed expertly by Ralph Fiennes, is a pitch-perfect villain teetering on the brink of his own destruction. It is a testament to the all-star cast of British actors and J.K. Rowling's story itself that Grint and Watson, with decidedly less to do and say than in prior installments (except, of course, for a highly anticipated kiss), are not particularly missed.
While satisfying overall, the film is not without its problems. The pacing issues that have plagued its predecessors are still very much a factor in Hallows 2. Without Harry's constant internal dialogue (from the book) available to connect the dots, the plot often seems convoluted. Story elements that were glossed over in previous movies are glaringly apparent -- the evolution of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) from misfit to hero being a prime example. There are questionable stylistic choices, including several slow-motion sequences during battle scenes that cause the otherwise appropriately epic final showdown to lean toward silliness. It's not always entirely clear who is alive and who is dead, or exactly how it is one survives what appears to have been a perfectly good death curse. This is the end of an era -- why not offer more in the way of resolution, rather than mess with Rowling's universe to create something that looks more cinematic but makes less sense?
Despite its flaws, however, the film is a worthy finale for the pop-culture phenomenon often referred to as "Pottermania." Though there will always be debate among book purists regarding what was left in, left out, or forcibly shoved through, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 offers the elements needed to cap off any hero's tale: hope, faith, friendship, love, magic, and a happy ending.