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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
starring: Daniel Radlcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint
rated: PG-13
synopsis: Harry, Ron, and Hermione, seek to destroy the final horcruxes–preserved fragments of Voldemort's soul.  Lead by Harry, Hogwarts faces off with Voldemort and his followers for one final showdown.

my mark: ★★★★☆

To say I'm not sorry to see the series end would be an outright lie, but as the above posters state: Harry Potter had to end some time. 
Personally, I read the first book when I was ten years old (a few years after they became popular), and it still feels like yesterday.  If you're like me (and many of you are), your copies of the books are nearly in tatters from being read so many times you literally lost count.  You own all the movies and have undoubtedly had marathons both on your own and with friends.  You've probably been to at least one midnight premiere, and maybe even dressed up for one or more of them.  You probably played the video game, bought the paraphernalia, and in general catered to the entire franchise.  Why?  Because for even the most grounded of Potter fans, you consider Harry, Ron, and Hermione some of your oldest friends.  And yet, once the most recent movie comes out on DVD (Blu-Ray), the cultural phenomenon so many of us grew up with is finally over.

Out of nostalgia, I want to give David Yates' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II five stars right off the bat.  However, I have to be honest, and the first thing I have to acknowledge is the ultimate flaw with almost the entire movie series: If you haven't read the books, you probably have no idea what's going on.  I know it's difficult to comprehend, but yes, in fact, there are people out there who never read the books but still watch the movies.  Those people coming into this film without refreshing themselves at least on the prequel, would be hopelessly lost.  There was no review regarding what Hallows and Horcruxes were, and no explanation of how they knew the horcruxes would be related to House Founders.  I realize that the writers and editors were trying to cram as much of the book in as possible, but they mustn't forget the people watching are not all crazed fans who have the plot memorized by heart.

Before I continue, I also want to add that this is not a compare/contrast of the book and the movie.  From this point on, I am taking the movie for its own entity as much as I possibly can.  I will also warn you that, given the scope of the cast, I'm going to dwell on actor performance for quite a while.

Daniel Radcliffe has impressed me once again.  His performance as Harry for the final time reflected the maturity his character has gained over seven fictional years.  Particularly in the moment where he learns the lengths he must really go to in order to bring down Voldemort, his steady calm, the grimness in his features, had my heart clenching for him.  Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, as Ron and Hermione respectively, followed suit.  Their relationship developed away from its awkward teen fancy into a more fierce, loyal love.  Ralph Feinnes, meanwhile, as Voldemort was extraordinary as usual, though one can't help but question the writers at the moment where he hugs Draco Malfoy.  Even when he is winning, even when he is trying to persuade the student body of Hogwarts to join him, would Voldemort ever really hug someone?  I'm choosing to view it as a very poorly thought-out moment of comic relief.

Perhaps the most memorable performances, though, came from the supporting cast.  Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, were, as always, outstanding show-stealers.  I nearly burst out cheering for Neville when he stood up to Voldemort and his army on his own.  Helena Bonham Carter was unsurprisingly marvelous, resembling as Bellatrix a demented puppy as she followed Voldemort around, hoping for praise and attention.  The most delightful surprise in her performance, however, came at the very beginning of the film, in which she must play Hermione Granger in Bellatrix Lestrange's body.  Carter rose to the occasion, dropping all her typical weirdness the audience has grown so accustomed from not just the Harry Potter films, but from Carter's career in general.  She was valiantly convincing as Hermione, genuinely uncomfortable in her own skin and reluctant to be unkind in any way.

While it was pleasant to see Michael Gambon back as Dumbledore for the briefest of scenes at the end, his younger brother, Aberforth, played by Ciarán Hinds, was decidedly uninteresting.  In contrast, the equally short-lived role of the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw was brought beautifully and entrancingly to life by Kelly MacDonald.  Her brief scene with Harry was one of the best in the film, Harry's desperation readily evident as he chases and pleads with her, and Ravenclaw's mistrust and inner torment portrayed phenomenally in a torrent of changing emotions.

A special shout-out is needed for Maggie Smith, who has played Professor Minerva McGonagall for the past decade with unwavering excellence.  Though her role was limited in Part II, I was pleased that the writing allowed her several moments of wonderful triumph and dialogue, including engaging in a duel with now-Headmaster Severus Snape, and bringing to life stone-warriors to protect the school, announcing gleefully, "I've always wanted to use that spell."

I could go on about the cast for an eternity, as I firmly believe that these films are some of the most well-cast I have ever seen, but I'll spare you, instead giving a hats-off to Alan Rickman as Snape, the Weasleys in general, Rubeus Hagrid, and that boy we love to hate, Draco Malfoy.

Perhaps one of the most exciting reasons to see a Harry Potter film, including this one, is to see magic brought to life in the special effects.  Part II lives up to the usual standards of excellence, but offers nothing that we haven't seen before.  The climax of the film should be in Harry's final duel, but there's only so many moments where one can see Harry's and Voldemort's wands lock together through a beam of light before it becomes old hat.  Alternatively, one of the most exciting moments of the film comes at the beginning, when the team breaks into Gringott's bank, and the treasure within begins to multiply.  Their escape on the dragon on is by far the most visually stimulating moment in the movie.  It's only a pity that it comes so early on.

Overall, I'd commend Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II to any devoted fan of the series.  However, to anyone who has not read the books or at very least brushed up on the prequel, I'd suggest doing a little research beforehand, or else seeing another movie altogether.

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