Living in the moment, it’s difficult to fully comprehend how impressive the Harry Potter film series has been, especially now that the eighth, and final, installment, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, is here. Financially, the mega-budgeted adaptations of British author J.K. Rowling’s seven best-selling books ranks as the most successful movie franchise of all time; within the pop culture lexicon, it’s a bonafide craze, dominating Halloween parties across the land and supplying satirical fodder to comedic minds both humorous (Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, most recently) and not-so-funny (2007’s embarrassing Epic Movie).

An omnipresent property, Harry Potter is a sure thing at the box office—Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is already breaking worldwide records. But here’s the real magic of these films: Producer David Heyman, screenwriter Steve Kloves, and director David Yates (Yates started helming the movies with 2007’s Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix) do not take that certainty of success as an excuse to lollygag. If anything, the minds behind the Harry Potter cinema brand have used that sense of guaranteed victory as motivation to exceed expectations.

And with Deathly Hallows: Part 2, they’ve outdone themselves in several categories, mainly the action, special effects, and overriding emotion. Longtime fans might cry like a baby without its ba-ba once the end credits roll, but they’ll also have a sufficient amount of reasons to applaud. The end of The Sopranos this is not.
 

Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Is A Tender, Thinking Man’s Popcorn Flick

More so than any of its predecessors, Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a quintessential summer blockbuster; the action is non-stop, the CGI is at all times grandiose, and there’s very little expository dialogue. Yet it’s not a wizardry spin on Michael Bay’s brand of loud, crowd-pleasing soullessness, which, yes, we do love; rather, Yates’ movie triumphantly balances the franchise’s biggest set-pieces and highest-stakes thrills to date with its most piercing sentiment.

As the characters sprint toward their inevitable fates, and Deathly Hallows: Part 2 takes fewer breaths than a Spin class all-star, the film never loses touch with its sympathetic core. When Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) share their long-awaited smooch, it comes at a particularly suspenseful moment of action, though the young love doesn’t get lost within the expensive-looking shuffle. Yates keeps the attention firmly planted on the kiss, and the characters’ feeling of “We may be corpses soon, so let’s not miss out on this” registers sharply.
 

 
Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the most action-packed Potter flick of them all, is also the most heartfelt.
 

It’s also that notion of mortality that starkly separates Deathly Hallows: Part 2 from the rest of the series. After years of close calls, dangerous threats, and brief run-ins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, who’s now an undeniably formidable action star and leading man) finally gets his showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, solidifying himself as one of cinema’s most compelling and complex baddies of all-time). The duel comes at the tail-end of a violent, and fatality-ridden, battle between the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Voldemort’s minions, the latter sect comprised of mean-spirited humans, building-sized ogres, and gigantic monsters made of fire (the inferno creatures anchor one hell of a wham-bam sequence, one complete with broomsticks that somehow don’t singe). Major characters die through impactful send-offs, younger secondary players perish with the harshness of anonymous soldiers in a war movie, and goofy co-stars become unlikely heroes.

The film’s 2010 lead-in, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, though wonderfully shot, nicely acted, and, at the time, the Potter franchise’s most mature entry, was unavoidably slow at times, going through the necessary motions as it set everything up for Deathly Hallows: Part 2; by that flick’s end, the most impatient of J.K. Rowling stans were left mostly fulfilled yet unfairly teased.

Here, however, the goods are forked over in endless quantities. It’s not a bad thing that Deathly Hallows: Part 2 feels like a mad dash towards the finish line because its victory lap, the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, is such a satisfactory capper, and it's prefaced with such sensitively rendered spectacle and unwavering care that Potter die-hards won’t experience any disappointment or frustration. More like elation, with sprinkles of amusement (a “19 Years Later” epilogue features some rather silly-looking, but not deal-breaking, makeup).
 

The Design Of Harry Potter’s Decade: From Slightly Annoying Rugrats To Worthy Action Stars

Ten years ago, director Chris Columbus introduced movie audiences to this world in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, a solid fantasy pic that was deservedly juvenile in its reach. After all, Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson weren’t even teenagers at the time. Looking back on those early years, it’s actually quite astonishing to see just how far the young actors have come along. Previously relegated to hammy sidekick status, Grint, even with the little screen time he’s given, walks through Deathly Hallows: Part 2 with a strong, almost imposing presence; Watson, meanwhile, spends her equally minor camera-time staking her claim as an elegant beauty, something that Yates himself, whether unknowingly or consciously, acknowledges with a few generous close-ups of her now-legal physique (but, again, he’s no Michael Bay).

It’s most remarkable, however, to watch Radcliffe here. Especially in his scenes with Fiennes, Danny Boy exudes a confidence that’s light years beyond the precociousness of his Sorcerer’s Stone days; he’s required to do a great deal of heavy lifting, emotionally, as Harry comes to terms with the massive role Voldemort has played in his past (blanks about how instrumental the albino villain has been in Harry’s life after killing his parents are meticulously filled in through haunting flashback) and what it will take to ultimately defeat the bald son-of-a-bitch. Radcliffe, much to his credit, never falters, going toe to acting toe with the dynamite Fiennes; the result is the riveting, tragic, and visually stunning coda that Potter fans have been waiting for, and it’s all to the shared credit of Radcliffe, Fiennes, and, just as importantly, Mr. Yates, who’s officially cemented his name as a go-to blockbuster filmmaker for any and all future franchises, both potential and certain.

Even at its most infantile, the Harry Potter movies have paid close attention to the ever-crucial blend of character development with pricey effects, which sets the franchise apart from practically every other theatrical brand that comes to mind. With Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the most action-packed flick of them all manages to also work as the most heartfelt. It’s been a long run, but your boy Harry Potter has received a truly proper farewell, one that Pot-lovers have no reason to mourn. So long, our four-eyed friend.