*Note: This review was written earlier in the week. Posting it again in celebration of the premier.
This is what every promotional item for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has promised for months. We knew it already, but to see it spelled out like that drives the point home. This. Is. The. End. No more running, no more hiding, no more days of innocent flirting and mischief in the Hogwarts corridors. No more near misses, no more almost deaths or victories. The final battle is here. For the series’ devoted fans, walking into the theater for the final time will be like walking into a spell, or a curse. There is no turning back.
Death Hallows Part 2 carries this weight from the beginning, giving it a gravity that none of the other films have carried. It also gives the film a tremendous sense of urgency and nervousness. Just as Harry and his friends have everything to lose, so do director David Yates, screenwriter Steve Kloves and the rest of the Harry Potter creative team. They have a captive audience; they have a fanbase waiting with bated breath for the ultimate final battle. All they need do is deliver.
They do deliver, and they do it spectacularly, but not in the way you might think. In the two hours leading up to the final confrontation between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), never once does Deathly Hallows Part 2 feel like a High Noon-style setup for a showdown. It’s a full, vibrant, kinetic movie, and as it turns out it isn’t really about that final showdown at all.
The film opens with a glimpse at the final seconds of Deathly Hallows Part 1: Voldemort standing at Dumbledore’s tomb, raising the all-powerful Elder Wand to the sky and releasing a bolt of violent magical energy into the clouds. No trace of the weak, half-alive wizard everyone whispered about at the start of the series remains. Voldemort has become a roiling, frenzied machine of sheer evil.
At Hogwarts, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is headmaster, and the school faces the darkest time in its history. Students are made to march in rank, eyed at every turn by Death Eaters and Dementors, punished for refusing to practice curses on each other. Snape watches his downtrodden students from a parapet in Hogwarts castle, literally standing on a precipice, poised to leap one way or another.
In a cottage by the sea, a stone’s throw from the grave they dug for their friend Dobby, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in hiding, and Harry is ready to move. Believing that another of Voldemort’s horcruxes (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably go pick up a book right about now) is hidden in the Gringotts vault of Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), he enlists the aid of the goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis) to break into the wizard bank.
The trail then leads the trio to Hogwarts, where Harry is certain the final horcrux is hidden. Snape is driven from the castle by a fed-up Professor McGonagall (the excellent Maggie Smith), and the hunt begins. Voldemort, sensing how close Harry is to success, now makes his move. As the Hogwarts professors and the last remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix cast protective enchantments around the castle, the Dark Lord arrives with a horde of Death Eaters, giants and other evil servants, and the attack begins.
The film cuts rapidly between the search for the horcruxes and the legendary (to readers of the novels, anyway) Battle of Hogwarts, careening ever onward toward the moment when Harry will have to confront Voldemort and face his fate.
But the key to this film’s success is that, while it’s always assured to be headed for that final moment, that moment doesn’t make the film. A good film could have been made as one long two-hour buildup to two guys pointing wands at one another, but Yates and Kloves take another route. They make their film about the moments in between, the moments when every character, major and minor, must make their choices and choose their own fates. The film’s triumphs come in waves, well before the final showdown, in an exhilarating blend of romance, action, violence and courage. We get to see Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) face off with Bellatrix Lestrange, Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) finally getting the spotlight, and yes, even that Hermione/Ron moment we’ve all seen coming for like six movies now.
The result is a film whose destination is calmer than its journey. When those final moments come, they come in an almost meditative, reflective way. It becomes clear that it’s never been about being here, but about getting here.
In a film of wild emotions, rage, love and even a few laughs, the long-serving Potter cast gives it their all. Those moments the fans have all been waiting to see are made possible because of the elegant fury of Maggie Smith, the angsty melodrama of Alan Rickman, the dumbfounded bravery of Matthew Lewis and the half-mad, feverish ambition of Ralph Fiennes. Of course, it all still comes down to the Radcliffe/Grint/Watson trinity, and they don’t disappoint. They know this is the final time they will walk in these shoes, they know they’re saying goodbye, and they rise to the moment in ways that actors twice their age can’t muster.
As the film draws to a close and the spell of Harry Potter reaches its apex, it’s clear what this film was about through all those fan favorite moments and epic confrontations. J. K. Rowling has always professed that her bestselling books are about the absolute power of love over all else. Yates made his film about the power of sacrifice, which is after all a very pure, very bittersweet kind of love. For Potter fans, we take the bitter as we say goodbye to this story (many of us for a second time), but in the sweet we get a truly great final film. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a true masterpiece, made with love and reverence and the gravity of the moment, and fans couldn’t ask for a better way to say goodbye.