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When Harry Potter first came to the big screen, it was an escape into a magical realm where, unlike the real world, we were not beset by dark forces, buildings falling down around us and cruel monsters driving us from our homes.
What a decade it has been for us muggles — and for Harry.
The wizarding world has become a place of strife, intersecting with today’s reality as the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s children’s books grew progressively more grim. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 brings the series to a satisfying cinematic conclusion.
Picking up exactly where last year’s Part 1 left off, refugees Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are done running. Their quest to destroy the relics that contain the life force of dark wizard Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) reaches a fever pitch when they learn one is stashed at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is now in enemy hands. But first they must retrieve another from the vaults at Gringotts, a wizard bank immune to enchantments and guarded by a dragon. The action starts early as they break in and flee with their prize, and it never lets up as they sneak into the school to reunite with friends and take the fight, at last, to the Death Eaters.
And that’s barely the first quarter of the movie.
Deathly Hallows Part 2 is just as epic as it needs to be. The inevitable siege of Hogwarts evokes World War II’s Battle of Britain at times (and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy at others) and director David Yates spares few iconic fantasy landmarks as he sacks the magical world he and others have built up over the last decade. Voldemort blazes a path of destruction through all who stand between him and the child who thwarts his conquest, until finally they stand face to face and meet their destiny.
But Harry isn’t a child anymore. By now he’s learned hard truths about himself and his own heroes, and at last he can confront Voldemort as an equal.
By journey’s end, we’re ready to see the same new beginning the heroes are hoping to find. Watching the young stars grow up as the series progressed has been magical in itself, and the translation from page to screen hasn’t always been painless, but the debates over who should have played whom and what should or shouldn’t have been cut out has always been part of the fun, along with all Quidditch matches and conjured feasts.
Gone are those distractions of happier times. But fan-favorite moments like the showdown between Bellatrix Lestrange (a delightfully hideous Helena Bonham Carter) and Molly Weasley (Julie Walters) are intact, as is the proud rise of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and the sad truth of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, who, as usual, owns the screen).
Deathly Hallows Part 2 will have a few head-scratcher moments for strict by-the-book diehards, but overall it’s a faithful adaptation of a beloved final chapter. In one part, a key step in unraveling the mystery of one of the final horcrux relics seems rushed and may be the weakest link in the film — which could seem an unforgiveable sin, considering Deathly Hallows is a story that took two movies to tell.
Quibbles aside, new generations will now have a complete series of films to enjoy, and they’ll also have a new way to explore the original books as J.K. Rowling takes them into the e-book world for the first time on her Pottermore web portal. Looking back, it seems as if the story of the orphaned magical boy left on a muggle doorstep was tailor-made for the screen, and it’s hard to imagine a time when it could have been little more than a single mother’s cafe scribblings.