How far “Harry Potter” has come, from a strictly for kids screen debut in “The Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001) — which captured none of the subtlety or rich characterizations of J.K. Rowling’s addictive prose — to David Yates’ “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” a graceful swan song that witnesses the final ascent to manhood of the Boy Who Lived.
Now is perhaps not the time to reminisce, though the temptation is hard to resist. What a pleasure it has been watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint — all in their preteens when the series started — grow up on screen, maturing into performers capable of the nuanced portrayals Rowling’s story demands.
If “Part 1” frustrated fans with its unhurried buildup to the anticipated showdown between Harry (Radcliffe) and lifelong nemesis Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and a necessarily open-ended conclusion, “Part 2” gives them the closure they need in a briskly paced ride to the finish.
The stakes have never been higher. With the Dark Lord holding sway over the wizarding universe, from the Ministry of Magic to Hogwarts, hope seems scant as Harry, Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) hunt the tattered remains of Voldemort’s soul — their only defense against his return to full strength.
Confused? If so, “Part 2” might not be for you. Far from a stand-alone adventure, the last leg of Potter’s journey leaves none of Rowling’s narrative threads untied, resolving all questions in a relatively economical 2 hours
10 minutes. For the uninitiated, though, the film might be noteworthy more for its spectacle, its exceptional cinematography and elegant camerawork.
As if responding to critics who dismissed “Part 1” as a languid slog through the quieter passages of Rowling’s sprawling last chapter, Yates wastes little time before thrusting his young wizards into the fire, with a visually arresting raid on the Gringotts Bank that sets the tempo for all that follows.
Happily, neither he nor “Potter” screenwriter Steve Kloves lose sight of the emotional urgency of Harry’s struggle. The action is generously served, but the filmmakers never forget to pause and reflect on how far Harry has come, how much he’s lost and how much more he stands to lose if Voldemort’s threat goes unchecked.
They also know when to say goodbye. Like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Part 2” is a shoo-in to earn a Best Picture nomination, and deservedly so; unlike “King,” its epilogue is brief and conclusive, sending fans into a post-“Potter” world with the bittersweet sense of satisfaction they’ve come to deserve.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Three and half stars
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman
Written by Steve Kloves
Directed by David Yates
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes