This review contains Hagrid-sized spoilers for the film and for the books. If you haven’t read/watched, proceed with the utmost caution.
There are two ways to write a Harry Potter movie review: As a professional film critic who delights in exposing crinkles and frizz, or as a person who has taken every opportunity to queue up at midnight (and stay up all night) to buy (and read) every Potter tome and watch every Potter film. I am the second thing, which works out well, because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 wasn’t made for critics; it was made for fans who have stuck with Harry until the very end.
The film picks up where Part One left off: Harry is watching over Dobby’s grave at Shell Cottage. There’s really no beginning, no looming Warner Brother’s logo, no teasing Hedwig’s Theme. There’s also no exposition. Director David Yates has never played to the lowest common denominator. If you haven’t read the books or watched the previous seven movies, there’s plenty to enjoy about Deathly Hallows 2, but don’t expect to know what in the name of Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem is going on.
Ten minutes into the movie, my sister turned to me and said, “This is going to be a two-hour battle film, huh?” And she was right. Harry, Ron and Hermione’s appearance at Gringott’s Bank in Diagon Alley signaled the start of dozens of thrilling, visually stunning action sequences. If you want to breathe, you should do it when the trio is lodged at Bill and Fleur’s cottage, because everything after that — from the dragon-riding sequence, to the epic Hogwarts battle, to Harry and Voldermort’s final showdown — will steal your breath away.
Amazingly, the frantic plot and special effects don’t interfere with the heart of the story. In many ways, Deathly Hallows 2 is a curtain call, a chance for the core cast to shine just one more time. In my cinema last night at midnight, there were roars of applause like we were watching live theater: When Neville beheaded Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor, when Professor McGonagall stepped up to defend Harry from Professor Snape and when Molly Weasley killed Bellatrix Lestrange. There was a lot of air-punching, high-fiving and fist-bumping going on, which, in itself, is a testament to how much we’ve grown to love JK Rowling’s characters.
Most surprising to me is that Steve Kloves was able to weave Rowling’s British brand of irreverent humor into a war movie. Rupert Grint’s comedic timing has always been a gift to the series, but Matthew Lewis and Maggie Smith also had the audience roaring with laughter. Helena Bonham Carter acting like Emma Watson acting like her was one of the best moments in any of the films. One of the funniest scenes — and the catalyst for last night’s loudest cheer — was Ron and Hermione’s long-anticipated first kiss. It was perfect.
Harry’s meeting with Dumbledore in King’s Cross Station was ethereal and dazzling. And Snape’s pensieve flashbacks of his love for Lily Potter were everything I could have hoped for. Alan Rickman gutted me.
For our generation, Harry Potter is the defining pop culture phenomenon. Rowling’s seven books total 4,200 pages, and Warner Brothers’ eight films clock 20 hours of screen time. For 13 years we’ve been reading and rereading his adventures, queuing up at midnight with our hands open in supplication, begging to be told more of his story. We’ve lost ourselves in Rowling’s world for sure, but we’ve found ourselves, too — the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts and the bone-chilling depth of our darkest fears. Her characters came to life, and we’ve loved them like family.
And that’s the real victory of Deathly Hallows 2. Yates did more than entertain us; he brought the story to a magical, graceful conclusion. He gave us a way to say goodbye. Of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Harry Potter it’s that the ones we love never really leave us. Unlike Voldemort, Jo Rowling’s story will live forever. At the London premiere of the final film, she opened her arms and said to the crowd, “Whether you return by page, or the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
And I do plan to return, to lose myself and find myself in the pages of my favorite story, again and again and again.