You don't have to love Quidditch or Butterbeer to love "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." It moves on flood tides of emotion. It's so strong -- as film-making and as drama -- that even if you can't tell a Horcrux from a horoscope it will sweep you away.
If you have kept pace with the series, it leaves you with a rare appreciation for a story followed, without compromise, to completion -- and for artists working to their limits to make an epic dream come true.
Yes, this is the Big One -- the entry that at last features Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), "the Boy Who Lived," going one-on-one against the satanic monster who nearly killed him, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
But the way J.K. Rowling created the saga and the way screenwriter Steve Kloves has adapted it, it's never been about single-warrior combat. It's about comradeship under fire, whether in apocalyptic battles between good and evil or in the daily challenges of growing up -- including learning how to trust and who to trust.
Radcliffe's ardent, soulful Potter, Rupert Grint's gung-ho Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson's smart, tough-elegant Hermione anchor the action with their bred-in-the-bone rapport.
But an entire tapestry of characters pop up full-bodied and ready for action, thanks to performers who don't just rise to the occasion but treat it as the time of their lives.
Actors like Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall and Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid bring all their experience on stage and screen and all their experience in the Potter universe to their brief but crucial appearances -- they emphasize the "life" in "larger-than-life."
The result is a marvelous show that's also the pop-poetic embodiment of how one man's fate -- or one boy wizard's -- intersects with a kaleidoscope of characters and becomes part of their shared destiny. No man is an island in this universe, not even -- to his and Harry's peril -- Voldemort.
Right from the beginning, director David Yates fills the movie with cameos that are electric in their drama or comedy or pathos, including Warwick Davis' ominous goblin Griphook and John Hurt's beaten-down wand-maker Ollivander. Kelly Macdonald is astounding -- a one-scene wonder -- as she captures the other-worldly bitterness of the ghost Helena Ravenclaw.
But what makes the movie a classic is the way it gets us to respond exactly as Harry does to familiar yet still-vivid figures like Julie Walters' overwhelmingly maternal Molly Weasley or David Thewlis' warm, sympathetic Remus Lupin. When Harry sees Michael Gambon's magisterial Dumbledore and Alan Rickman's thrillingly elusive Snapes in ever-changing lights -- and finally gets to the bottom of his connection to each of them -- he makes kids in the audience feel remarkably mature. Adults feel as if they're coming of age all over again.
Without any pre-Potter background as an action moviemaker, Yates has mastered the trick to every great action set piece: You must put the audience inside the action to evoke an emotional response. He enables actors like Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange to conjure unique feelings as well as lethal spells -- Carter, once again, rises to nihilistic ecstasies that are also hysterical in every sense of the word.
The special effects are smashing, but what really awes the audience is a quiet sequence set in an ambiguous afterlife. It brings viewers to a hush -- and makes metaphysics more palpable than anything in "The Tree of Life."
The epilogue, set 19 years later, is ineffably moving. It's tempting to quote Rowling's own last line, "All was well." At the final shot what I really felt was, "All is perfect."