There are two kinds of Harry Potter movie viewers. There are the diehards, who can actually remember all the minor characters' names and relationships from movie to movie and are dedicated enough to follow the complicated plot mechanics of wand ownership, which factors heavily in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the finale of the eight-film series adapted from J.K. Rowling's beloved novels. (This volume is available in 3D that is neither distracting nor necessary.)
And then there are the casual viewers — those who haven't read Rowling's books and perhaps see the movies — as this casual viewer has — as pleasant diversions and pleasingly coherent, humane blockbusters.
From my casual-viewer perspective, a problem with the finale is that it skimps on so many of the elements I've enjoyed most from these films over the past has-it-been-a-decade?. The experience of watching the series' trio of lead actors literally grow up on screen: Filmed in conjunction with last year's Deathly Hallows: Part 1, there's no physical change here, though Part 2 builds on Part 1's "all grown up" provocations, indulging the spectacle of Hermione (Emma Watson) flashing décolletage and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) showing his chest hair. The colorful supporting performances from A-list British actors: The agnostic filmgoer may wonder why someone would put Jim Broadbent in their film and not give him anything to do. And all those magical asides and doodles: This somber, gray-toned conclusion lacks any business even as memorable as Part 1's bit about "dirigible plums."
And yet, after Deathly Hallows: Part 1 felt like a lengthy, dutiful prologue for Part 2, this final film arrives as a pretty satisfying capper for the series. It retains some of the previous film's video-game-style quest plotting — the series of MacGuffins the trio must track down for various reasons and purposes. But it's tighter, with fewer and more familiar locations — including a return to the wizard's prep school Hogwart's, missing in Part 1 but always a sort of fourth protagonist in the series — and with the knowledge of impending finality lending a sense of gravity and momentum.
The film opens where the previous installment left off, with Potter and his pals at a beachfront safe house, dark minions ruling over Hogwart's, and the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) in possession of "the elder wand" — one of the three immortality-granting "deathly hallows" of the title. From there, the film conspires to bring these three spheres of activity together in a climactic conflagration at Hogwart's and the inevitable face-off between Harry and Voldemort — in whose form Fiennes and some really talented make-up artists have teamed up to craft a movie villain for the ages. Along the way, some significant, long-term characters perish, relationships are clarified, and — though the series' apparently extreme fidelity to its literary source always limited its cinematic reach — the weight of nearly 20 hours and more than 10 years of experience settles in, lending a warm glow to a graceful, flash-forward coda even casual viewers are likely to find affecting.
Opening Friday, July 15th