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Harry’s Last Hurrah

film_harrypotterFinal Potter film, ‘Deathly Hallows 2,’ emotional and fulfilling

ith series veterans David Yates (directing his fourth Potter film) and Steve Kloves (screenwriter on all but one) at the helm, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 does its damnedest to honor all the complex subtexts of J. K. Rowling’s books. And they fare surprisingly well, serving up one of the most thrilling, yet elegiac films in the series. It’s not a complete success, but the conscientious mix of action, humor, and emotional backstory will leave most Potter fans fulfilled.

Yates doesn’t waste time on explication. Even before the Warner Bros. logo appears, evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) steals the powerful Elder Wand from the tomb of deceased headmaster Dumbledore. Then it’s back to the seashore, where Dobby, the noble house elf, was buried at the end of DH Part 1. With a brief pit stop to hear the wandmaker Olivander (John Hurt) explain that a wand can switch its allegiance and choose its wizard, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are off to find and destroy the last of the Horcruxes where Voldemort has hidden bits of his rotting soul to keep himself alive.

Obviously, none but a rabid Potter fan will have a clue what’s going on, so if you’ve never seen a Potter movie before, don’t start with this one. But the initiated will adore the wild thrill ride into the underground vaults beneath Gringott’s, the goblin bank, and the trio’s escape via a giant albino dragon guard. Their return to Hogwarts is exhilarating too, even though it’s become a gloomy place, surrounded by wraithlike Dementors, with Harry’s nemesis, the officious Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the new headmaster.

Once Harry and the gang are smuggled in, a ferocious Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) puts Snape to flight and takes charge of the school. Everyone is now assembled, and even though some have only a line or two of dialogue, it’s good to see them all again: crusading Hogwarts students Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), and Order of the Phoenix stalwarts Lupin (David Thewlis), Tonks (Natalia Tena), and the rest of the Weasleys. The stage is set for the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, to fulfill the prophecy that neither can continue to live as long as the other survives.

Voldemort (imbued by Fiennes with a creepy, dry laugh like splintering twigs) and his evil minions march on the school, and the night sky is ablaze with dueling curses and fireballs. This is as tedious as most fantasy film battles; the action is confusing, and there’s little time to mourn the characters lost.

But the redemption of Snape is beautifully handled. Harry finally sees Snapes’ life story, from wretched boy to betrayed adult, and the secret devotion from which Snape never swerved that bound him to Harry. Yates can’t go into as much depth as Rowling did (the story of Harry’s parents, Snape, Lupin and Sirius Black has always gotten regrettably short shrift in the films), but this moving montage of Snape’s backstory brought me closer to tears than any other sequence throughout the series.

In addition to watching Harry evolve from “boy wizard” to compassionate hero, it’s been fun seeing Daniel Radcliffe morph into an assured young actor of considerable presence. That he can hold the center of a movie so crowded with activity (among so many scene-stealing veterans) is a testament to his quiet intensity. He laces Harry’s decision to sacrifice himself to save his friends with a heartbreaking mix of trepidation and resolve. His subsequent interlude in limbo with Dumbledore (the irrepressible Michael Gambon), a buoyant moment of affection, humor and solidarity, is a welcome breather for the audience before Harry dives back into the story for the duel with Voldemort that has been his destiny since Book One.

The upside to cutting out all those subplots and backstories is that Yates and Kloves are able to focus and streamline the narrative of this final act, while sticking to the essentials of Rowling’s theme: love, friendship and loyalty are greater than any other power, magical or otherwise. Deathly Hallows 2 delivers this message with film_harrypotterdeathaffecting grace and heart.

HARRY POTTER

AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

★★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, and Michael Gambon. Written by Steve Kloves. From the novel by J. K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates. A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13. 130 minutes. (Read more about this movie and the Potter universe at Lisa Jensen Online Express, ljo-express.blogspot.com.)

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