Millions will line up for the eighth and final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, being hugely invested in how it turns out without quite remembering why. It’s not like 2007, when some of us lined up at bookstores at midnight to find out who’d live and who’d get Avada Kedavrad. Now it’s about wrapping up the whole multimedia enterprise. To recap: The Dark Lord Voldemort murdered Baby Harry’s parents but dissolved into primordial slime when he zapped the kid. Harry survived Dickensian neglect to attend Hogwarts school for wizards and found a couple of bff’s in Hermione the brainy show-off and Ron the sensitive prat. There was Quidditch … purebloods versus mudbloods … the rotten luck of Dark Arts professors … puberty … first snogs … increasingly lethal assaults by a reconstituting Voldemort ... and many illustrious British actors earning enough, even with U.K. taxes, for country homes. The seventh novel, H.P. and the Deathly Hallows, was divided into two parts for the screen, for no reason other than an entertainment conglomerate’s existential terror of pulling up its “tent-pole” without a fight, and the result, HPATDH 1, felt padded. Still, we needed these adaptations, even the unsatisfying ones. Good as J. K. Rowling is, she’s no prose stylist. The movies put interesting faces to names and fabulous designs to humdrum descriptions. The last novel’s clunky climactic wand-off, lacking emotional grandeur, begs to be bettered by the magic of movies.
Expecto Patronum, it is! HPATDH 2 works like a charm. A funereal charm, to be sure, but then, there’s no time left for larks. Harry, Hermione, and Ron must track down the final horcruxes—those objects into which Voldemort has placed the pieces of his fiendish soul—and confront the bigoted, homicidal, fascist wizard before he exterminates more good actors. It should be said that Voldy (Ralph Fiennes) doesn’t look too formidable here. He’s stopped evolving beyond the pale-blue reptile stage, is a mouth breather, and is visibly weakened by each crushed horcrux. He’s like a drug-addled rock star in his final days, surrounded by sycophants: No one cool wants to party with him except Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, who could use a tambourine to shake along with her fright wig. The others stand back and watch him wheezily orate: “I want Harrah Pot-hair! Pot-hair must die!” He needs Harry like Sarah Palin needs the lamestream media.
Seeing Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson together for presumably the last time brought a tear to my eye. It’s true that the hoity-toity Watson never convinces us that Hermione is meant to be with the second-banana nebbish Ron (Grint), but that was one of Rowling’s more arbitrary plot turns. (“Harry and Hermione—too obvious. They should be ‘just friends.’ Yes, we need more ‘just friends’ role models. That leaves Hermione and ... ah, er … Ron.”) Radcliffe didn’t quite shoot up as the producers probably hoped, but his diminutive stature and pinched features make him even more compelling. Radcliffe carries the weight of playing Harry much as Harry carries the weight of saving the good-wizard world, and it ought to age both of them. As for Grint, we’ve watched him go from a little redhead to a strapping teen with dodgy skin to a twenty-something thinning a bit on top. By the end, I wanted to sing “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Those who find Watson aloof will love the bit in which Hermione transforms herself into Bellatrix and Bonham Carter does a wicked impression of Watson’s elongated lockjaw. Otherwise, Bonham Carter is an expensive bit player—along with Jim Broadbent, David Thewlis, and on and on. Maggie Smith, though, has a moment when she faces down Fiennes and savors her character’s imperious brogue, and Ciarán Hinds (Dumbledore’s brother) and Kelly Macdonald (dark wraith) get a couple of atmospheric scenes. Alan Rickman conveys the hauntedness of Severus Snape by inserting even longer pauses between syllables—a feat worthy of a knighthood. The one I’ll miss most is Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, with her queerly fluted monotone. Here’s your spinoff character, J.K.!
The director of movies five through eight, David Yates, decided early that the way to go was deep-toned Gothic horror, which made for little in the way of highs and lows but all the doominess you could ask for. HPATDH 2 features some of his and cinematographer Eduardo Serra’s most expressive work (which you need not see in 3-D to be awestruck). The last 45 minutes are fully realized: the blitzkrieglike destruction of Hogwarts; the revelatory “pensieve” flashback showing Snape’s tortured past; and the final duel between Harry and his nemesis, light on suspense but rich in mythic splendor. The dénouement, nineteen years in the future, was an excrescence in the novel but rounds the movies out beautifully.