Taken as a whole, the HARRY POTTER series has had its ups and downs when it comes to how successful the films are. When you are feeding the audience huge chunks of exposition, or introducing characters and situations, a book can take its time and measure the dosage, while a film must get through it as quickly as possible without angering the fans, but also not confusing those who are unfamiliar with the source material. So, in that respect, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 had a particularly hard time of it, because that entire film was prelude and set-up and couldn't afford to miss anything, because of how the series is designed. It's a good entry into the series, but it's a film without a third act, and by itself as a movie it doesn't quite work.
Well, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 is that third act, and it works. It works so well, in fact, that there are moments that pay off on ten years of buildup, and they are just as powerful a movie moment as when Darth Vader tosses the Emperor to his death, or when Gollum meets his destiny at the bottom of the Crack of Doom. Fans of this series will leave joyous and happy, because David Yates, like J. K. Rowling's book, really sticks the landing, and the result is one of the most satisfying conclusions in recent memory.
The film is one long climax, but there are moments to breathe in the film, and as we've now established the stakes and the characters, there's very little set-up in PART 2. The film wastes no time getting to the good stuff, and so on that level the film is incredibly successful. But if you haven't bothered to see a POTTER film before now, you deserve to be good and confused about what's happening if you sit down to this one. Aside from a hurried mission to Gringotts to steal one of Voldemort's dread Horcruxes, two-thirds of the film is set in Hogwarts as the trio of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley return for one final stand against Voldemort and his dark army.
We've literally watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grow up before our eyes through these films, and at the end of it, they've become fine actors. They know the nuances of these characters and they'll always be identified with them, for better or worse. But they are utterly convincing and there is a passion in their performances that you cannot fake. Radcliffe really shines in PART 2, and I'd say Harry's walk from Hogwarts to the Forbidden Forest and certain death is possibly his finest acting moment. Brave, determined, but so very frightened, and one of my favorite moments in the book, where Harry brings back his loved ones not for help, but just for the strength to go on, is done perfectly. It takes a skilled actor to pull off that kind of emotion, and Radcliffe does it perfectly. Watson's Hermione has grown into a beautiful woman, and she is no longer the know-it-all of the earlier films, but one who loves and knows loss, and it's a mature performance. Rupert Grint, whose Ron Weasley has always come off as slightly oafish, is genuinely heroic here and I bought the relationship between Ron and Hermione because of him.
Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort impressed me a lot in this film. As a villain, Voldemort has never been complicated, but Fiennes brings a level of surprising sympathy to the part. Voldemort and Harry are not so different, except in the essentials, and Fiennes puts a subtlety to Voldemort that I was quite pleased to see. Harry embraces and needs all the help he can get, and Voldemort scorns such pretensions. And while you don't quite feel sorry for him in the end, you do feel the loss in what could have been.
All the supporting cast shines. Julie Walters as Mrs. Weasley gets her Ellen Ripley moment, and although it feels rushed in the film, it's still a moment to be cheered. Ciaran Hinds as Abelforth, Albus Dumbledore's brother, looks uncannily like Michael Gambon, and I liked how as a character Hinds plays him as Professor Dumbledore turned wounded and full of apathy. Maggie Smith also gets great moments as Professor McGonagall, and I love her face-off with Snape in the main hall, even if it's brief. That will probably be the common complaint with PART 2 - the film pushes through some pretty big moments and some offscreen deaths when it should have paused for a moment or two, which isn't something you could say about the series as a whole. This is the one POTTER film you wish were a little longer, especially in dealing with the resolutions of certain characters. Which brings me to two characters in particular.
Neville Longbottom has always been my chief complaint of the films. In the films' rush to tell Harry's story, of course some aspects will be glossed over or ignored, but Neville's story was always a sort of shadow of Harry's. I especially regretted the films not dwelling on Neville's parents and what happened to them, but I understand that there's only so much that can be fit into these films realistically. But in PART 2 Neville, played with flair and bravery by Matthew Lewis, gets several moments, and when he enters the film he got the most resounding cheer from the audience until the end. I know Rowling's done with the series, but if there's one regret about the books it's that I would have loved to have read about Neville's final year at Hogwarts. But Lewis does fine work.
Severus Snape is the most complicated character of the books and the films, and it's here that I was most worried, because Snape's story is essential to whether or not PART 2 works. If Snape's resolution isn't nailed completely, the film would fall apart. But Alan Rickman finally gets to take the gloves off as an actor with Snape, and the result is one of the most moving, poignant performances Rickman's ever done. I dare any fan of this series to be dry-eyed as Snape holds dead Lily in the ruins of Harry's childhood bedroom, screaming in anguish. The pay off of Snape's character is delicate and emotional, and Rickman nails every great moment given to him in the film. The sequence of Snape's past in the Pensieve is the finest work Yates has done as a director on this series, and I'll admit to tearing up quite a bit at this scene, and hearing quite a bit of sniffling from the audience as well. There are a lot of opportunities to cry in PART 2. I'm big at crying at the movies myself when the film earns it, and PART 2 earns it a lot.
This series is something of a miracle - it could have turned out so different, but Warner Brothers, Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, David Yates, and Steve Kloves have shepherded it for over 10 years, and the result is one of the best fantasy series ever in film. There are moments that could be improved upon, of course, but there's so much they got right, and they have finished off the series with an undeniable high note. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 satisfies on almost every level, and fans will be well pleased that they end it so well. It is rousing, emotional, thrilling, and in the end, triumphant.