Three young wizards enter the formidably guarded vaults of Gringotts, casting spells and avoiding being spellbound themselves, plunging at breakneck speed deep into a cavern guarded by an ancient creature that is the most authentic of its onscreen kind. A sword changes ownership, a trusted goblin turns traitor, and the spectral malevolence of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) poisons the very air.
We are, of course, accompanying Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) on their eighth, and final, quest to save their Hogwarts from utter destruction. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 seamlessly continues, and dramatically improves upon, Part 1, bringing the voluminous franchise to an emotionally and creatively satisfying conclusion—no mean feat, considering that many of the films’ fans have literally grown-up with the protagonists. But before that bittersweet coda at King’s Cross train station, there are great obstacles to be overcome and wondrous adventures to be embarked upon—which is what makes Part 2 one of the best of the series: It doesn’t feel like an ending. Yes, close friends are killed—the castle-rampart battle between the forces of Voldemort and the forces of Hogwarts deliberately and successfully invokes the Blitz—and Harry is bolstered by the spirits of departed loved ones (in a heartrending sequence that manages to avoid sentimentality), yet every harbinger of doom is countered by the sheer excitement of the quest. And due to the deft dialogue, viewers don’t have to know (or remember) what a Horcrux is to be swept up in the urgency of finding them and the need for weapons capable of destroying them. Screenwriter Steve Kloves outdoes himself in including just the right amount of wonderful mumbo jumbo (wand lore, especially) and amusement in a narrative that also captures the book’s emotional arcs. Much magical credit must also be paid to the top-tier talent of production designer Stuart Craig and cinematographer Eduardo Serra for crafting an alternate universe brimming with genuine enchantment.
That all the Potter movies kept the original actors (with the exception of Richard Harris as Dumbledore; and could there ever have been another Snape other than Alan Rickman’s?), and added to them with the best thespians in Britain really pays off as a dozen or so indelible characters fulfill fates long and masterfully in the making. Though almost all the characters get their moment, their appearances don’t feel like crowd-pleasing walk-ons so much as a crucial part, however small, in the eventual showdown between good and evil—and in the film’s marvelous balancing act between an exhilarating epic and a final farewell.