Words have an inexhaustible magic, wise old Albus Dumbledore proclaims in the final stanza of author J.K. Rowling's epic Harry Potter series. As it happens, the same must be said now for the eight films adapted from her books.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 proves it, with an enthralling finale to a saga that must be considered among the most extraordinary feats in movie history. Never before have filmmakers embarked on such a lengthy, labyrinthine quest. With each chapter the chances of stumbling became greater. But considering Parts 1 and 2 of Deathly Hallows as a single enterprise, as they should be, this is a rare franchise that just kept getting better.
Other than Rowling's devoted readers — of which I'm not one — few would imagine that Harry's decadelong maturation from boy wizard to mannish savior would be this extraordinary. I had doubts along the way, as young actors aged, themes darkened and each film introduced characters that appeared to play out their narrative strings before disappearing or making perfunctory cameos later.
Deathly Hallows masterfully pulls together all the pieces, deepening their meanings while adding emotional flourishes that squeezed my heart. The final hour of Part 2 is why I avoid reading novels before they become movies. I had no idea what would happen, and it was up to director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves to convince me as a film critic that it should matter. My challenge to filmmakers always is "surprise me," and this movie did.
Part 2 begins with a brief overlap to Part 1, with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, classically villainous) taking possession of the Elder Wand that might be his key to dodging fate. Then we resume stalking Voldemort, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) searching for the remaining, mysterious horcruxes fueling his blackened soul.
The first is literally at the end of a roller coaster, the only time Part 2 feels like a theme park ride blueprint. It ends in an underground vault guarded by a dragon used by the young wizards to escape, in what may be the franchise's most awe-inspiring sequence. After that, Part 2 turns deadly serious, culminating with Hogwarts academy under siege by Voldemort's minions and a shocking development in his relationship with Harry.
We learn more about Dumbledore's murderer, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, a maestro of sinister pauses), and his stern treatment of Harry. Loyalties are revealed as deceptions, and characters we hissed or dismissed before turn heroic. The beauty of Rowling's narrative is that everything and everyone has purpose, even if it happened four movies ago. And there are subtexts of serious topics — mortality, kinship, duty— extending to our own Muggle world, in the finest tradition of fantasy.
Rowling's readers know what to expect but perhaps can't imagine how beautifully it plays on screen. Purely from a filmic perspective, I never expected to be impressed this greatly, this long. Or that the tear duct-tugging epilogue bringing Harry's saga full circle would make me wish it weren't ending. Inexhaustible magic, indeed.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.