Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The final book in J.K. Rowling’s moderately successful series of Harry Potter novels was split into two movies, but the split was not equal. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,” released last fall, covered about 500 of the book’s 750 pages, leaving Part 2 to deal with the remaining third — climax, mostly, and not just for this installment but for the entire eight-movie series.

How can one two-hour film provide adequate closure for such a long saga? Can it be dramatically satisfying when the vast majority of the audience already knows, in great detail, what’s going to happen? And just how awesome is it going to be when Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix the B-word?

The answers are: it can’t; yes; and very.

Part 2 picks up exactly where Part 1 left off, with no change in tone, tempo, or style. It’s immediately clear that the whole story was meant to be told in a single four-and-a-half-hour movie. There’s no point in judging the parts separately; they don’t stand alone, and they weren’t intended to.

Harry’s first line of dialogue is “I need to talk to the goblin,” which seems like a good thing to say in a number of situations. From there the story marches solemnly and urgently toward its conclusion: the search for horcruxes that must be destroyed in order to defeat Voldemort; the final word on Snape’s allegiances; risky plans and dangerous missions; some snogging. The pace is steady, neither rushed nor dragged out, as director David Yates lets the story’s natural ups and downs create the rhythm. Working once again from a screenplay by Steve Kloves (who adapted all but one of the films), Yates understands Rowling’s style of storytelling, and he has guided the saga through its most complex turns. Chris Columbus deserves credit for assembling the cast and directing the first two movies, but it is Yates — the director of films 5-8 — whose graceful touch has emerged as the signature of the series.

There are several thrilling sequences, including one set in Gringotts Bank, that are rife with tension and unease, occasionally leavened by grim humor. For as much mayhem as there is in the film, it’s amazing how quiet it often is. That’s not to say it isn’t rousing and noisy when rousing noise is called for, just that Yates has realized the film need not be a never-ending cacophony of climax.

But speaking of climax, I have to admit the final victory doesn’t feel like one. Instead of making Voldemort’s destruction a triumphant thing, a cause for celebration, Yates underplays it, perhaps not wanting us to forget how costly the victory was. That’s a far more mature and nuanced attitude than the saga’s detractors give it credit for, and I can respect Yates’ choice not to make it a jubilant, ticker-tape-parade sort of moment. Still, I can’t help but feel there must have been a way to give us the satisfaction of enjoying our enemy’s demise while still respecting the solemnness of the occasion.

If there’s no emotional release at that point, though, there’s bound to be in the epilogue, or in the scenes from Snape’s memories, or in Harry’s otherworldly conversation with Dumbledore, or upon the death of this character or that character, or any number of other places. It’s impossible for someone who’s read all the books and seen all the movies not to bring his or her own baggage to this final chapter, filling in whatever blanks there might be. I can point out (just for example) that the movies don’t adequately convey Draco Malfoy’s character and motivations, and that I wouldn’t understand him if I hadn’t read the books. But it’s a moot point: I have read the books, and that experience can’t help but influence the way I respond to the movies.

My hunch is that your reaction to this haunting, magical final installment will mirror your reaction to the book — whether that’s sadness that it’s ending, happiness that it’s ending happily, nostalgia for all the hours you’ve devoted to Mr. Potter and his associates, or some combination of those. In any case, it’s a fitting conclusion to a remarkable tale, and an end to one of the most successful — and successfully executed — movie franchises in history.

B+ (2 hrs., 10 min.; PG-13, a little mild profanity, intense themes, battle scenes, some death.)