Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ★★★★½

The unique, impressively successful cinematic Harry Potter saga goes out on a high note with this thoroughly satisfying and emotionally rewarding final chapter. Suitably epic without losing sight of the essential intimate aspects of the overarching story, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" joins "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" as one of the best installments of the series.

After a very brief recap of how "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" ended, followed by some exposition, the movie kicks into high gear with one of a number of viscerally exciting and, where appropriate, suspenseful action sequences. At 130 minutes, the briskly paced—at times, it even feels a bit rushed—last film about Harry Potter is also the shortest, but everything comes together really well for a graceful ending and a sense of well-deserved closure.

I willingly admit that after seeing "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", I had my doubts about director David Yates. Now, after the fact, it is easy to argue that Yates turned out to be an inspired choice, and the franchise has undeniably soared under his sure-handed, restrained, character-focused direction and his total commitment to seeing this massive project through to the end (he helmed the last four films).

Screenwriter Steve Kloves stays true to the central themes and tone of J.K. Rowling’s novel while excising plot elements that aren’t strictly necessary in telling Harry’s story. It’s probably impossible to please hardcore fans of the books, but Kloves has done a commendable job adapting all but one of the seven novels for the big screen (Michael Goldenberg wrote the screenplay for the fifth movie).

The film’s production value is top-notch, of course. Eduardo Serra’s evocative cinematography works its magic, and the visual effects are seamlessly integrated into the live-action footage. Alexandre Desplat provides a fine, effective score that features rousing music for the action scenes and affecting pieces for the smaller, low-key moments; it also incorporates cues from previous Harry Potter composers John Williams and Nicholas Hooper.

The three leads—Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint—have become so entrenched in their roles that they, for all intents and purposes, are the characters they play on screen (Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, respectively), regardless of their acting skills (for the record, I think they are very good here). Ralph Fiennes delivers an excellent performance, conveying Voldemort’s increasing vulnerability in a way that adds a more human dimension to Harry’s main antagonist. Several members of the supporting cast enjoy a share of the limelight one last time, including Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, Michael Gambon as Professor Albus Dumbledore, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall, and Julie Walters as Molly Weasley.

In the final analysis, it is nigh impossible to argue successfully against the casting of Alan Rickman in the role of Professor Severus Snape being absolutely perfect. Here, we finally get a more complete picture of the intriguingly complex character. The montage which shows some of Snape’s memories is beautifully realized, remarkably touching, and easily one of the most emotional moments of the whole series.