There is no way for me to do this review without major spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film or read the book, do not go any further until you do one or the other! Unless, of course, you don't plan to do either!
JB: So we've finally made to HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, the this is it, there ain't no more, so long, it's been good to know you finale to the series. The most epic of all the Harry Potter films, it captures many moments of the book splendidly and, with giants, dragons and entire armies running and flying around, it cannot help but be an exciting and enjoyable finale to a remarkable series. When it gets to its ending moments, however, it is a bit of a letdown, considering how long the films have been leading up to these moments.
After three films that were dominated by the younger cast, it's nice to see some of the older stars getting more footage than usual. Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the nutty and evil Bellatrix Lestrange, has some fun near the beginning of the film, in a scene where Hermione disguises herself as Bellatrix in order to retrieve an important object from the evil witch's bank vault. It's Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson playing Hermione playing Bellatrix - how can that not be entertaining?! It's almost a shame when the spell is broken and Hermione is simply Hermione again. Ralph Fiennes gets more footage as Lord Voldemort than in any of the previous films combined, and he has a grand time at it - he even hugs Draco Malfoy, and a more awkward hug you may never find on film anywhere.
Best of all is Alan Rickman, who shines once as Professor Snape again in a long flashback scene that explains exactly why Snape has always been so hard to figure out. Major events from the past, include the murder of Harry's parents, are fleshed out with new facts, and previously unheard conversations reveal a whole substory that might be quite a shock for fans who have not read the book. Rickman is at his best in these scenes.
Because the movie is mostly about the ultimate battle between Harry and Voldemort, many of the younger cast aside from Daniel Radcliffe don't have many shining moments this time around. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, as Ron and Hermione, run around tracking down various horcruxes (objects which contain parts of Voldemort's soul), but aside from Hermione commandeering a dragon as an escape vehicle and Ron running and squealing like a five year old when a fire breaks out, the two actors have little to do that's memorable except for the long-awaited kiss that cements their on-again, off-again relationship. It's a nice moment, but considering these two characters have been dancing around their feelings for each other since the end of the second movie, it could have been better.
The same goes for other fan favorites such as Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy and Evanna Lynch as the nutty but lovable Luna Lovegood. If you like the Potter films for all the little character moments between battles, spells and adventures, this is not the one for you.
Matthew Lewis, however, finally gets more than his usual scene or two, and is even given a long speech that basically boils down to "Bite me, Voldy!". He's always been one of the most underrated and unsung supporting actors of the series, and it is good to see him finally getting a huge chunk of screen time.
Major highlights include the trio breaking into Gringott's Bank, with the aforementioned "Hermione Lestrange" and dragon ride, Harry's triumphant return to Hogwarts, and a short but sweet battle between Professor McGonagall (the always superb Maggie Smith) and new Hogwarts headmaster Severus Snape.
What keeps this film from being all that it should have been is the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. MAJOR SPOILERS HERE - BEWARE! BEWARE! Before this moment, there was the kiss (scattered applause - see, I told you it could have been better), Molly Weasley killing off Bellatrix (major applause) and Neville Longbottom beheading Voldemort's snake (even more major applause). Yet when Harry finally kills Voldemort, there was not a peep from the audience. What should have been a Luke Skywalker kills Darth Vader moment (yeah, I know Luke didn't kill Darth Vader, just go with me here) is curiously flat and emotionless. Five minutes later, Harry explains to Ron, Hermione and us what happened, but it is too little too late. J. K Rowling also blew this moment in the book, and it was up to the filmmakers to rescue this scene from her confused and overlong explanations and make it live on screen. They didn't do that. There's a flash of dueling wands, Voldemort's wand flies through the air and is caught by Harry, and then Voldemort crumbles, slowly, and then dissipates, slowly. It took the audience (and me) so long to figure out what was going on, the window of opportunity for a good mass cheer had already closed. Note to any future filmmakers: unless you are Akira Kurosawa or Sam Peckinpah, don't do slow motion death scenes.
The half-hearted and much despised epilogue from the book, in which we catch up with Harry and Ginny Potter and Ron and Hermione Weasley 19 years later, now with their own brood of little wizards and witches, was unwisely kept in the film too. It adds little to the story that we couldn't have figured out for ourselves, and robs the film of a more pleasant ending scene of Harry, Hermione and Ron linking hand in hand, young, alive, and still with a lifetime of adventures ahead of them.
I'm not picking on this end of this movie just for the hell of it. From the first moment in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE first film when Dumbledore, McGonagall and Hagrid leave baby Harry on the Dursley's doorstep, the whole series has been leading up to this final battle between The Boy Who Lived and He Who Shall Not Be Named. It should have been definitive, the crowning moment of all the Harry Potter films, and it isn't. It gets the job done, but that's all. That doesn't take away anything from the rest of the series, nor does it negate all the great moments of this particular film, but for the love of Luna Lovegood, you would think David Yates and screenwriter Steve Cloves they would do everything they could to make the battle scene understandable and exciting. You want people yelling "Woo hoo" and "Yay!", not saying "Huh?" and "What the hell?". On the book, the fight took place in front of hundreds of witnesses, while in the film, it is just Harry and Voldy by themselves. That doesn't help at all.
Don't mistake my criticism as a negative review (it seems like one though, eh?). I've never rated a Harry Potter film lower than three and a half stars, nor more than four and a half stars. So the difference between my favorite Harry Potter film, THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and my least favorite, THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, is one single star. For me, THE DEATHLY HALLOWS ranks about the same as THE GOBLET OF FIRE, a film I love and have watched many times, but have always found some problems with concerning how it tells its particular story.
The entire series, from THE SORCERER'S STONE through to THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, is a major achievement in motion picture history. A seven volume book series turned into the most successful movie franchise of all time, and done, for the most part, with respect and love for the sources from which they were adapted. When you think that the series also hung on the hope that three amazingly cute kids aged 9 through 11 would turn out to be pretty decent actors (it could have gone so horribly wrong if even one of them turned out not to have any real talent as they got older), it just makes the achievement even more awe-inspiring, and DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 works as an epic, exciting and eye-popping exclamation point to the whole HARRY POTTER phenomenon.
But it could have been better, that's all. ½ - JB
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR GREAT MOVIE LINES
"Good morning? You're Bellatrix Lestrange, not some dewey-eyed schoolgirl! "
A NOSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Maybe it's me, but the CGI effects that removed Ralph Fiennes nose throughout the movie are a bit dodgy.