A magical ending (even for a Muggle like me)

Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) fight till the bitter end in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. (Warner Bros.)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (A)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman
Written for the screen by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates

The final chapter in the saga of the Boy Who Lived is a streamlined machine that exists solely to deliver what fans and moviegoers want. That’s not a knock: Deathly Hallows Part 2 is two hours of pure adrenaline. Having already laid the groundwork in the previous seven films, Part 2 only has to start the battle royale and let the audience sit in awe.

Unlike previous Potter adventures, none of this final outing feels like a slog. Your eyes are glued to the screen. Sure, the audience I saw the film with cheered entirely too often, but it is relentlessly exciting.

In the finale, Harry, and by proxy, Ron and Hermione are searching for the remaining horcruxes–pieces of Voldemort’s soul scattered throughout Britain–which, if reclaimed, increases the Dark Lord’s strength. But if destroyed, bring him closer to mortality.

The first 30 minutes play like a brilliant heist film as the trio attempts to break into a goblin-run bank that houses one of the horcruxes. Though we all know each will survive until the final battle, the scene remains tense throughout. The trip through an underground tunnel really gives a chances to showcase the 3-D, even if it’s a little too dim to see everything.

Back at Hogwarts, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) has taken over has headmaster, barely squelching the imminent rebellion against Voldemort’s advancing army. As the students and professors take their final stand, Harry begins to realize his life is putting everyone else’s in jeopardy.

In previous films, Harry has always been the protagonist, but it’s not until this final chapter that he becomes a leader. His final showdowns with the Dark Lord are as intense as they need to be, and Fiennes and Radcliffe have never been better.

Fiennes in particular gives the greatest performance of a Satanic figure in all of cinema. He sneers, laughs at death, destroys everything in his path and seduces potential enemies by promising them power that goodness simply cannot attain. He is menacing at a terrifying level.

But ultimately, the film belongs to Rickman. Perhaps the greatest living actor to never be nominated for an Oscar, Rickman plays up the murkiness of his character. Snape’s intentions have always been cloudy, but here his emotions and motives are on full display. A flashback reveals just how much he has given up for his convictions. One can only hope he will finally get the Academy’s attention next spring.

Every aspect of this movie is top notch, really. In his single scene, Michael Gambon delivers the series’ most touching moment as he and Harry meet as equals for the first time. “Is this all in my head, or is it real?” Harry asks. “Of course it’s all happening in your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean it is not real?”

This magical franchise may be a work of fiction, but it all feels real.

At two hours, this is the series’ shortest film. Yet it says everything it needs to in that space. Even the epilogue is a mere five minutes, not 45. (Yeah, that was a shot at you, Return of the King.) It’s concise without missing any crucial elements.

Beyond that, it’s just nitpicks: Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) have zero chemistry and I could always use more Emma Thompson. But Part 2 takes everything that works about the series–its universal themes, its stunning effects–and ditches the rest.

We could all learn a lot from Harry Potter. And filmmakers could learn a lot from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

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