Those who have grown up with Harry Potter will appreciate the level of maturity displayed by the young adult wizard and his pals in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." This emotionally satisfying conclusion to the series ensures that the impressive special effects generally don't overwhelm the characters we have come to know so well.
Spanning eight feature films over the course of a decade, the Harry Potter series has been one of the most reliable franchises in the movie business. The source novels by J.K. Rowling provided ample story material for the filmmakers, who shrewdly brought it to life by casting an appealing mix of novice acting talent and veteran actors.
The three principal characters survived a bumpy adolescence, which is perfectly understandable when you consider that supernatural villains sought to prevent them from reaching adulthood. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) have made it into their 20s. Indeed, one bare-chested scene makes you wonder if Harry Potter shouldn't be renamed Hairy Potter.
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Anyway, our protagonists are ready for their final confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). This personification of the dark side is primed for an apocalyptic battle, meaning Harry and his friends better wield the Elder Wand and whatever else is required to guarantee that good triumphs over evil in a decisive manner.
If "Deathly Hallows: Part 1" was overly deliberate in setting up the final showdown, "Part 2" delivers in an action-packed sense. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves know that we're ready for some dramatic resolution.
The plot complications rushing through this relatively fleet narrative include the devious dealings of such characters as Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who is now in charge of that esteemed private academy for precocious wizards known as Hogwarts. The school is a grim place under his administration, with students afraid of virtually everything. When Snape's motives are revealed, it's a fine chance for Alan Rickman to demonstrate how good he is at playing bad.
Although the story's magical twists and turns easily could take it into special effects overkill, it's commendable that the focus remains on the confrontation between young heroes and old villains. It's diverting to see such computer-generated wonders as a giant slithering snake and a dragon that accumulates many frequent flier miles, but these beasts remain in the service of a cleanly defined narrative.
As if to acknowledge that this narrative truly is at the end of its road, the film seems to go out of its way to make sure that the numerous supporting characters are able to take what amounts to a final bow. Although some of these characters are limited to a wink, a nod and a magic trick or two, it's still nice to have their familiar faces light up the screen for a spell.
Appearing in what sometimes verge on near-cameo bits are such agreeably assertive actors as Maggie Smith, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Gary Oldman and Robbie Coltrane. They're among the reasons why this long-running series has remained so cohesive.
And when Maggie Smith's character gets to perform one last act of magic, it's as if the series itself were waving its magic wand in a farewell gesture. Grade: B+
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.