Silver Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ****
I must admit, I'm more than a little Pottered out. After seven books totaling thousands of pages and eight movies clocking in a little shy of twenty total hours-- to say nothing of the ceaseless hype-- I've pretty much had my fill of gobbledygook words, magical talisman MacGuffins, and wands shooting arcs of light. The fatigue set in early during the fifth film installment, Order of the Phoenix, and reached its zenith during the first half of Deathly Hallows Part I, which was an abysmally paced setup that started with a bang but then dragged on for another two interminable hours.
But in the end, the series's longest-serving director, David Yates, with an awful lot of help from now-gazillionaire writer J.K. Rowling, pulled it off. As grating and probably unnecessary as the first half of Deathly Hallows was, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II wraps up the series with a spectacular conclusion that is both viscerally thrilling and emotionally resonant, bringing to a close a massive artistic undertaking that is undeniably one of the great achievements in children's fiction and film.
When last we left Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, one more time), he and pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) were on a quest to rid the world of a group of Horcruxes, magical objects imbued with the soul of the dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Part II starts off quickly after the trio's gruelingly prolonged slog through the woods in the last go 'round, with the young-adult wizards locating and quickly vanquishing some of the haunted objects and setting up a final confrontation at Hogwarts. In one corner is Voldemort and his trusted assistant Snape (Alan Rickman), along with a host of invading dark magicians; in the other, Harry and his ragtag band of young wizards, along with the few surviving members of the faculty.
If you're a serious Harry Potter fan, you know how it ends, and if you're not, I won't be the one to spoil it for you. But knowing the ending takes surprisingly little away from the thrilling conclusion, which brings several simmering subplots to the fore and beautifully pays off a lot of minor story arcs. It's a dark, chaotic, and even bloody affair-- this is the Saving Private Ryan of kids' movies-- packed full of beautiful images and startling special effects.
The biggest pyrotechnics are more emotional than literal, though, especially the conclusion of Snape's arc, which is so well played and satisfying it nearly threatens to overtake Potter's story. It doesn't hurt that these sections feature the series's finest actor, Rickman, who has been the one element of the films that never wavered.
A few scenes in flashback remind viewers of the heroic trio in their younger days, circa Sorcerer's Stone, and the glimpses of them are startling. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson look so very young. They've all grown into their roles wonderfully, and the look back helps illustrate exactly what it is the series did so well. Children's stories possess a unique potency. Those things we love as kids never really lose their power in our minds, and they can conjure up the same intensity of feeling years and decades later. But what the Harry Potter books-- and subsequently the movies-- achieved was to grow with the audience, maintaining an internal consistency while undergoing a shift in tone as massive as the transformation into adulthood itself. During the dark, climactic battle, what we're watching isn't just the destruction of Hogwarts but the destruction of childhood, razed to make way for adulthood, and it's both thrilling and terrifying.