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'Deathly Hallows: Part 2' a Robust Swan Song for Potter and His Magical Minions

From left: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint give a rousing curtain call in their final Harry Potter adventure, which earned $169.2 million over the weekend in the U.S. alone.

How far Harry Potter has come, from a strictly-for-kids screen debut in The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), which captured none of the subtlety or rich characterizations of J.K. Rowling’s addictive prose, to David Yates’ The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, a graceful swan song that witnesses the final ascent to manhood of the Boy Who Lived.
 
Now is perhaps not the time to reminisce, though the temptation is hard to resist. What a pleasure it has been watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – all in their preteens when the series started – grow up on screen, maturing into performers capable of the nuanced portrayals Rowling’s story demands.
 
If Part 1 frustrated fans with its unhurried build-up to the anticipated showdown between Harry (Radcliffe) and lifelong nemesis Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and a necessarily open-ended conclusion, Part 2 gives them the closure they crave, in a briskly paced ride to the finish.
 
The stakes have never been higher. With the Dark Lord holding sway over the wizarding universe, from the Ministry of Magic to Hogwarts, hope seems scant as Harry, Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) hunt the tattered remains of Voldemort’s soul – their only defense against his return to full strength.
 
Confused? If so, Part 2 may not be for you. Far from a stand-alone adventure, the last leg of Potter’s journey leaves none of Rowling’s narrative threads untied, resolving all questions in a relatively economical two hours and 10 minutes. For the uninitiated, though, the film may be noteworthy more for its spectacle, its exceptional cinematography and elegant camerawork.
 
As if responding to critics who dismissed Part 1 as a languid slog through the quieter passages of Rowling’s sprawling last chapter, Yates wastes little time before thrusting his young wizards into the fire, with a visually arresting raid on the Gringotts Bank that sets the tempo for all that follows.
 
Happily, neither he nor Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves loses sight of the emotional urgency of Harry’s struggle. The action is generously served, as one might expect from a movie whose artistry is every bit as formidable as its commercial prospects.

But the filmmakers never forget to pause and reflect – on how far Harry has come, how much he’s lost, and how much more he stands to lose if Voldemort’s threat goes unchecked. (Also commendable: a poignant coda to the complicated saga of Alan Rickman's Snape, a character painted with broad, unsatisfying brushstrokes in early installments, but whose development since Yates took over the series in 2007 has given the sullen professor room to flourish.)
 
Yates and Kloves also know how to say goodbye. Like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Part 2 is a shoo-in to earn a Best Picture nomination, if only in recognition of the franchise's record-breaking success and tireless pursuit of excellence. Unlike King's bloated, mawkish farewell, Harry's epilogue is brief and conclusive, sending fans into a post-Potter world with the bittersweet sense of satisfaction they’ve come to deserve.