Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 **** Directed by: David Yates Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman
Ten years and seven gargantuan films on from the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the eponymous boy wizard is finally making his cinematic exit. And with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 receiving its world premiere in London last night, this really is the end. There's no more teasing, no more set-up, no more story that can be cheekily split up; as the posters currently adorning every bus stop, billboard and multiplex foyer keep informing us, here is where "It all ends".
The good news is that it ends in such a satisfactory way. There's no Revenge of the Sith-style anti-climax, no drawn-out multiple endings, a la Return of the King. From the opening scenes, Deathly Hallows Part 2 gets down to the business of concluding this epic saga in surprisingly sprightly fashion.
Which isn't to say it short-changes fans by skimping on details. There's still an abundance of impenetrable-to-muggle-ears references. But, with the previous three instalments laying so much of the groundwork for Harry's fated showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort, director David Yates no longer has to be a slave to all the exposition and dense plotting that has had a tendency in the past to sometimes distract from the magic that should have been on screen.
Not that any of the films have been actively bad (well perhaps, the overly safe first instalment and the clunky Order of the Phoenix). Indeed, on the whole, the series has taken a great deal of care to honour JK Rowling's creation and, perhaps watched in a marathon session, what once seemed like frustrating longueurs will seem more like the kind of rich texture that has a tendency to give films durability as the years wear on. Still, it's heartening that no-one has dropped the ball in the final stretch.
Fans of the books will be well aware of the key revelatory scenes, but as someone with only a casual investment in the saga via the films, it is good to see these handled so gracefully. Potentially corny moments such as Ron and Hermione's first kiss are offset with a sweet sense of humour, while the return of Michael Gambon's much-missed Dumbledore in the flashback scenes detailing the true nature of Professor Snape's hostile relationship with Harry provides much of the film's emotional heft.As Snape, Alan Rickman once again proves a highlight, but for different reasons; his sneering malevolence has this time been imbued with a tormented angst for events in his past.
The plot is mostly concerned with firing Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) towards his fate and Yates doesn't let much get in the way of that as Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Harry continue their search for the final few "horcruxes", the destruction of which will weaken Voldermort (a devilishly good Ralph Fiennes) enough to make victory - by no means guaranteed - more feasible. Along the way there are some typically magnificent set-pieces, particularly the raid on Gringott's wizarding bank, a fiery face-off between Harry and arch rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and the attack on Hogwarts by Voldemort and his dandy-looking minions.
Radcliffe, Grint and Watson acquit themselves well. Though often criticised for their acting abilities in the early days (a little unfairly given they were cast at the ages of ten and 11), they've taken ownership of their characters in such a way as to make it impossible to imagine anyone else in the roles. Radcliffe, in particular, has developed enough to make the more complicated emotions Harry has had to deal with as the saga has progressed - death and sacrifice have been increasingly frequent themes - ring true. The same can't necessarily be said for the long-serving supporting cast of Hogwarts students, but the action scenes make their clunky line readings more bearable.
Of course, if the films haven't won you over by this point, this one is unlikely to make you a convert, but for the millions of fans who've grown up with Potter, it's good enough to make saying goodbye a tougher proposition.