Note: This review was originally posted on July 10th 2011, but is being republished to coincide with the film’s opening weekend.

Fourteen years, seven books, eight movies, billions of dollars in profit and an incalculable amount of affected imaginations all lead up to one point. Numbers might help define J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter franchise for some, but true fans know that emotion is best way to quantify the impact of the series. The mere words “Harry Potter” can elicit emotional reactions specific to the characters and the series, and help recall experiences we’ve shared with the story over the years.

The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 marks the emotional climax of an era and is laden with almost insurmountable expectations. Unless Rowling decides otherwise (and she might), this film could very well be the final piece of the Harry Potter canon. So does Deathly Hallows Part 2 live up to the hype? I’m happy to say it does.

Before we get into the film, I feel a little bit of personal Potter context is needed. Harry Potter is a series that I’ve been a fan of since the beginning. Even though I was in college when the series began, I was endlessly entertained and fascinated by Rowling’s world. These books were not just for kids, and reading the first few helped fill a void the Star Wars prequels could not. I’d attend midnight releases of the books, read them greedily, then line up to see the movies opening night. Family and friends all joined in my passion as I passed the books along. To further extend the connection, the first film – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – was actually one of my first on-camera video interviewing experiences. Suffice to say, Potter holds a special place in my heart and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was my most anticipated film of the past several years.

It left me feeling very, very happy indeed.

If you haven’t seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, watch it now. It’s required viewing. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have no interest in playing catch up. Deathly Hallows Part 2 begins – even before the Warner Bros. logo – right where Part 1 left off. However, instead of immediately jumping into the action, the film takes a slow, methodical, even stoic approach at the start. We’re dropped back into the world fully aware this is the calm before the storm.

One spectacular – albeit semi-rushed – action scene later, the story finally returns to Hogwarts. Yates and composer Alexandre Desplat mark the occasion by invoking John Williams‘ now iconic themes and fans of the series will will began to get weak at the knees. Yates evokes that nostalgia throughout the film in an attempt to raise the stakes by reminding us that the whole world – not just Harry, Ron and Hermione – is affected by this hunt for Horcruxes.

From there, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is basically an action-packed, physically-draining sprint towards the inevitable finish line. When it does take the rare, extremely important detour, adrenaline is replaced by heartache.

That pacing is both the film’s biggest strength and greatest flaw, though. Because we’re moving so fast, major moments tend to feel tacked on or glossed over. Yates beautifully punctuates some of the iconic, signature moments but as well as those work, others are equally disappointing. For a fan, it’s easy to forgive these faults because we’re so engrossed in the story – which is my personal stance – but it’s a totally valid criticism to say Yates misses the mark on occasion.

Another criticism fans familiar with the source material might excuse are the spots where Deathly Hallows Part 2 is too faithful to the original text. Several crucial, but weird, scenes from the book remain untarnished and, after seven films, could seem out of place. Fans will love them and say Yates didn’t want to go off book, but in contrast there are other cases where he not only goes off book but actually improves on Rowling’s text. The movie foreshadows and clears up some of the more confusing story elements and presents a more exciting climactic confrontation than Rowling’s. Much as the audience will choose what to love and hate about the film, Yates himself made some questionable choices. His biggest choice though, one the studio was certainly a big part of, was to post-convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 into 3D. The effect is unnecessary, but rewarding and cool nonetheless. Pick your poison.

Finally, when the foot comes off the gas pedal and we know the end is near, that’s when Deathly Hallows Part 2 really shines. This is an important film in many ways and as an audience member you feel that towards the end. The emotions are layered on thick, and while it fades to black much sooner then Peter Jackson did with Return of the King, it’s obviously reaching for that level of Oscar-winning gravitas. It doesn’t totally succeed, but it does enough to be extremely gratifying.

Whether you’ve been a fan of the books and movies for years, or only know Potter’s story from the silver screen, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 doesn’t disappoint. Non-fans might find it strange at times, but who cares? They shouldn’t have come to a seventh sequel in the first place. This movie is the close-enough-to-perfect cherry on top of a franchise that will be remembered for years to come. It’s ripe, beautiful, and you’ll be sad – but satisfied – when you’re done with it.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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